Lot 14. A rare 'Jizhou' 'Plum blossom deer' meiping, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279); 21.5 cm, 8 1/2 in. Estimate 200,000 — 300,000 GBP. Lot Sold 275,000 GBP (355,328 USD). Courtesy Sotheby's.
the elegantly potted tapering body rising to broad rounded shoulders, sweeping up to a short neck with everted rim, finely decorated with a buff-tone glaze on a dark brown ground with concentric rows of resist technique discs mimicking the markings on the Sika deer, save for the knife-pared footring unglazed revealing the buff body, the neck with a key-fret band below buff-coloured dots on the rim, the base covered with a dark brown matte glaze.
Property fom the Rui Xiu Lou Collection.
Provenance: Sotheby's New York, 12th June 1984, lot 197.
Sotheby's London, 9th November 2005, lot 225.
Sotheby's New York, 11th-12th September 2012, lot 127 (266,500 USD). (Cf. my post: A rare 'Jizhou' 'Plum blossom deer' meiping, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279)
Note: Vases covered in this highly unusual and attractive glaze, reminiscent of the spotted pattern of the fur of deer, attest to the creative inventiveness of the potters of the Jizhou kilns in Jiangxi province, who took inspiration from a wide variety of sources, most notably nature, to achieve incredibly naturalistic effects which appealed to the predilections of the Southern Song literati. As aptly pointed out by Robert D. Mowry who notes that ‘if the Cizhou kilns were the most technically innovative during the Northern Song period, the Jizhou kilns succeeded them as the most technically creative’, see Robert D. Mowry, Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 1995, p. 36. Among the repertoire of innovative designs devised by the Jizhou potters, the pattern of irregular pattern of dark brown concentric circles and buff-coloured dots evenly covering the surface of this vase must rank among the most technically challenging and time consuming, hence its rarity. The spots were carefully delineated with an opaque mottled buff glaze that was painted over an underlying lustrous dark brown ground. Only the most capable and highly skilled potters were able to achieve such a perfectly controlled design and glaze as they faced the constant risk of the glaze running over the spots during the firing making the overall design appear blurry. This meiping may therefore be considered among the masterpieces of the Jizhou kilns as the patterned glaze has rarely turned out as successfully as on this piece.
Vases of this type and glaze are very rare and only two related examples appear to be known; one of them a meiping unearthed in 1980 in Xuebei village, Yongxin county, Jiangxi province, attributed to the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), and included in the exhibition Song Yuan shidai de Jizhouyao ciqi [Ceramics from the Jizhou kilns of the Song and Yuan dynasties], Shenzhen Museum, Shenzhen, 2012, cat. no. 108; another example sold in our New York rooms, 21st September 2006, lot 102, and again at Poly Auction Hong Kong, 2nd April 2019, lot 3504. A related meiping of this type, but with the mottled glaze running over the spots, was offered at Christie’s New York, 19th September 2006, lot 209.
The spotted glaze is also found on a pear-shaped vase included ibid., cat. no. 109; and on a jar from the collection of Dr and Mrs O.E. Manasse, included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Sung Dynasty Wares. Chün and Brown Glazes, London, 1952, cat. no. 123. See also a tripod censer covered with a spotted glaze, in the British Museum, London, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics. The World’s Great Collections, Tokyo, 1981, vol. 5, pl. 130.
Located in central Jiangxi province along the banks of the river Gan, the Jizhou kilns are believed to have been active from the Tang dynasty (618-907) through to the Ming period (1368-1644). The production of Jizhou ware however peaked in the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), coinciding with the move of the Imperial court and its entourage to southern China. The wide range of new glaze combinations and motifs developed here has led some scholars to suggest that this creative momentum resulted from the employment of displaced potters from the north at southern Chinese kilns (Feng Xianming et. al., Zhongguo taoci shi [A History of Chinese Ceramics], Beijing, 1982, p. 279). While large waste heaps of Jizhou wares have been discovered near the market town of Yonghe, Ji’an county, the location of the kiln has not yet been discovered, making difficult to determine when designs and glazes were first developed. Although bowls formed the largest output of wares from the Jizhou kilns, a small number of upright vessels was produced in the later years of the Southern Song and into the Yuan (1279-1368) dynasty. The slight degradation of the proportions towards that later period can be observed when comparing an example recovered from the Shinan ship that sank off the coast of Korea around 1323 while on its way to Japan with a large load of fine Chinese ceramics on board; see The Shinan Wreck II, National Maritime Museum of Korea, Mokpo, 2006, p. 289, pl. 08; and Da Yuan fan ying: Hanguo Xin’an chenchuan chuchui wenwu jinghua/Sailing from the Great Yuan Dynasty. Relics Excavated from the Sinan Shipwreck, Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Hangzhou, 2012, p. 46.
The irregular spots and mottled glaze on this vase resemble the fur of the Sika Mandarinus, a deer species favoured for its attractive spotting. A symbol of longevity, the deer was considered the only animal capable of finding the fungus of immortality and was as a result companion to the god of longevity, Shoulao, and Magu, goddess of immortality. Deer were also associated with Fuxi, the Daoist god associated with the creation of the universe. A painting by renowned artist Ma Lin (fl. ca. 1195-1264), depicting the deity with a skirt made of deer’s fur, in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, was included in the Museum’s exhibition China at the Inception of the Second Millennium. Art and Culture of the Sung Dynasty, Taipei, 2001, cat. no. I-1.