Lot 2902. A Ding white-glazed melon-shaped ewer, Five Dynasties-Northern Song dynasty (907-1127); 5 in. (12.5 cm.) high. Estimate: HK$800,000.00 - HK$1,200,000.00 (USD 102,540 - USD 153,810). Price realised HKD 1,875,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2018.
The ewer is delicately potted with a hexalobed body rising to an inverted lipped mouth covered with a strap appliqué. The shoulders are surmounted by a rope twist handle terminating in three separate straps, each with a triangular moulded peony appliqué. The pale bluish glaze stops just at the foot, and the partially unglazed base is incised with the character nan (south), box.
Note: The result of C-Link Research & Development Limited Thermoluminesence Analysis number 2371GF02 is consistent with the dating of this lot.
The current ewer has a clay body that is exceptionally fine and white, characteristic of the finest and most prized Ding wares. The way this ewer was glazed is also noteworthy. It is fully glazed, with exception of a very slim ring on the inner rim of the foot ring, on which the glaze had been scraped off to support firing on spurs. Such meticulous glaze application is rarely seen and represents the finest technique of spur-firing. Only one comparable example with the same method of glazing on the foot and with equally fine body and glaze is known, which is a Ding example from the imperial tomb of the Northern Song Empress Yuande (943-977), mother of the Song Emperor Zhenzong, in Gongyi, Henan. Such connection suggests that thecurrent ewer shares characteristics distinctive to Ding wares which were produced as tributes for the Imperial family during the mid-tolate Northern Song period.
are of bowls and dishes, while moulded ewers with appliqué are rare exceptions. A small number of Ding melon-form ewers have been excavated, mostly in the territory of the Liao state, spanning across the mid-Northern Song to mid-to-late Jin dynasties. The most similar example to the present lot is a Ding ewer of closely comparable shape, glaze and clay body, excavated from no. 6 tomb located at Qahar Right Front Banner Haoqian Unit in Inner Mongolia (fig. 1). A gilt-bronze face-mask uncovered at the site suggested a Liao period dating to around 1032 to 1064. Another ewer of similar form was excavated from the tomb of the Liao official Zhao Kuangyu, dating to 1060, in Mouzhangzi village, Chaoyang, Liaoning province (fig. 2). However, this ewer is carved on the body with naturalistic plantain leaf motifs, which are stylistically different from plantain leaves seen on Ding wares from the late Northern Song period, but more typically seen on Longquanwu wares fired in Beijing. The glaze and clay body of this ewer are also characteristic of Longquanwu wares. Towards the late Northern Song dynasty, lobed ewers tend to be made with taller and slimmer forms, with less pronounced lobes, gradually departing from the shape of melons. One such example is a ewer, decorated on the body with appliqué vines and incised butterfly motifs, unearthed from a Liao tomb in Nanningzi Village, Chaoyang, Liaoning province, dating to the late Liao period (fig. 3). Towards the Jin dynasty, ewers further move away from melon form to pearshaped form, with longer spouts and even less pronounced lobes, and are often undecorated. Their workmanship is also noticeably less refined than the ones made in mid-to-late Northern Song dynasty.
fig.1. Ding ewer excavated from no. 6 tomb located at Qahar Right Front Banner Haoqian Unit in Inner Mongolia.
fig. 2. Ding ewer excavated from the tomb of the Liao official Zhao Kuangyu, dating to 1060, in Mouzhangzi village, Chaoyang, Liaoning province.
fig. 3. Ding ewer unearthed from a Liao tomb in Nanningzi Village, Chaoyang, Liaoning province, dating to the late Liao period.
Because most of these lobed ewers were unearthed in the northeastern part of China, and some of them were indeed fired within Liao territory, for example at Longquanwu in Beijing, many scholars in the past identified ewers like the present lot as ‘Liao wares’. However, this is inaccurate. Most of these lobed ewers, whether they are coarse or fine, were in fact fired at the Ding kilns. In 2009, the School of Archaeology and Museology at Beijing University and the Hebei Cultural Relic Research Institute conducted a joint excavation at the Ding kilns in Hebei. The Jianciling kiln site produced Ding wares of the finest quality. Sherds of similar lobed ewers were unearthed from the stratum dating to the late Northern Song period, and one can conclude finer types of Ding ewers were produced at this kiln site. Lobed ewers of lesser quality were found in the kiln sites of Yancun and Yebei, from stratum dating to the Jin dynasty (fig. 4). Thus it is likely that some of the coarser lobed ewers found in northeast China mentioned previously were fired at these kiln sites.
fig. 4. Ding ewer, Jin dynasty, unearthed in Hebei.
The present ewer has a very distinct form, and is smaller than ewers typically used for tea whipping or wine pouring. It is intriguing to speculate on its function. Its form in the shape of a melon might give us some hints. The imagery of melons forms the rebus guadie mianmian (numerous melons borne on never-ending vines), a phrase which conveys the wish for abundant offspring. As early as the Tang dynasty, vessels were made in melon forms encapsulating such auspicious wishes. The current ewer is potted with a very small opening obstructed by a horizontal strut, which would inevitably affect its practicality as a functional water container. Hence it is more likely that it serves as a decorative piece with auspicious symbolism. One comparable example is a set of wine vessels, including a wine ewer and warming bowl, excavated from the Liuhuantun Hoard in Fuyu County, Jilin province (fig. 5). Their noticeably small sizes and impractical features suggest that they were not intended to be functional, but as decorative items to convey fortuitous wishes, or as gifts, or to be used in rituals.
(Excerpt translated from the Chinese essay by Qin Dashu pp. 4-5).
fig. 5. Ding ewer in the shape of a melon excavated from the Liuhuantun Hoard in Fuyu County, Jilin province.
Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 28 November 2018.