A rare numbered purple-glazed Junyao tripod 'narcissus' bowl, Northern Song dynasty (960-1127)

Lot 1304. A rare numbered purple-glazed Junyao tripod 'narcissus' bowl, Northern Song dynasty (960-1127)7 3/4 in. (19.7 cm.) diamEstimate 3,800,000 - HKD 4,800,000. Price Realized HKD 3,480,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2006. 

The strongly potted shallow bowl has a band of fifteen 'nail-head' bosses applied above the three ruyi feet, and a further eighteen bosses between a horizontal rib and the lipped rim, all covered in a thick glaze, the exterior predominantly a rich mauve and the interior in tones of lavender and blue, the base incised with the character si, 'four', and with a thinner brown glaze and a ring of fifteen spur marks revealing the grey body, box.

ExhibitedChristie's London, An Exhibition of Important Chinese Ceramics from the Robert Chang Collection, 2-14 June 1993, Catalogue, no. 6

NotePreviously sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 12 May 1976, lot 21, and again, 15 November 1988, lot 107.

The fascination with Jun ware lies in its remarkable glaze, with its lustrous and opalescent qualities, as evident in the present lot. This opalescence is due to the effect of light on certain features within the glaze: the mass of tiny gas bubbles trapped in the glaze, the formation of minute crystals which reflect light back through the glaze, and an emulsion formed by two liquids within the glaze. Early examples of junyao have an even pale bluish glaze. In the early 12th century, the potters began to add splashes of copper oxide to the unfired glaze, which resulted in colourful pieces comprised of bright purple areas contrasting with the soft blue tone of the glaze. On 'narcissus' bulb bowls, the most desirable arrangement was to have the interior glazed blue and the exterior purple.

Recent research has suggested that the numbers incised on the bases of junyao vessels, clearly relate to the size of the vessel and may also indicate which rooms they were kept in at the Imperial Palace. As a rule, the larger the numeral on these 'numbered' Jun wares, the smaller the size of the vessel. These bulb bowls were often called 'drum-nail' bowls, as the bosses symmetrically spaced in relief around the rim recalled the pegs used to tighten the skin stretched in top of a drum to change pitch.

Compare with similar published bulb bowls, inscribed with the same numeral 'four', such as the purple example in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, included in the Illustrated Catalogue of Sung Dynasty Porcelain, pl. 66, and exhibited in A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum: Chun Ware, 2000, Catalogue, no. 32; another purple one in the Tokyo National Museum illustrated by Mary Tregear, Song Ceramics, London, 1982, pl. 171; a lavender-blue bowl from the Harcourt Johnstone and the Enid and Brodie Lodge Collections, exhibited at the Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1952, Sung Dynasty Wares, Chun and Brown Glazes, and illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 31, and subsequently sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 30 April 1996, lot 306; and another lavender-blue example from the Reach Family and Dr. W. Klingenberg Collections, included in the Exhibition of Chinese Art from the Reach Family Collection, Messrs Eskenazi, London, 1989, Catalogue no. 24, and sold in these Rooms, 27 April 1997, lot 696.

Several other bulb bowls of this shape and size are in important museum collections. Compare the purple example in the Percival David Foundation, London, included in Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, Kodansha Series, vol. 6, Japan, 1982, no. 51; a lavender-blue one in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, illustrated by He Li, Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey, San Francisco, 1996, no. 236; and another blue one illustrated by John Ayers, Far Eastern Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980, no. 103.

Fragments of several 'drum-nail basins' of this form from the Jun ware kiln sites at Baguadong, Yuxian, Henan, with different numerals incised on the base, were included in the O. C. S. Exhibition of Kiln Sites of Ancient China, London, 1980, Catalogue nos. 394-397.

Christie's. Imperial Chinese Ceramics from the Robert Chang Collection - Jade Shears and Shimmering Feathers, Hong Kong, 28 November 2006