Lot 41. A large moulded Yaozhou celadon incense burner, Jin dynasty (1115-1234); mouth d. 19.6 cm. Estimate: 2,000,000 - 3,000,000 HKD. Lot sold: 2,772,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's.
sturdily potted and decorated around the compressed globular body with foliate scrolls alternating with mythical beast masks suspending fixed rings, each of the splayed legs further rendered with a mythical beast mask, all below plantain blades and keyfret borders encircling the constricted neck and shoulder.
Provenance: Acquired in the 1980s.
Note: The present piece is exceptional for its large size, but even more so for its relief designs and the mythical beast masks on its globular body. Yaozhou celadon tripod incense burners are more commonly found carved with bands of flower or leaf scrolls. The pair of mask handles suspending fixed rings is remarkable, demonstrating their inspiration from metal prototypes, which were often adorned with loose rings. Fashioned in resemblance to archaic bronze incense burners both in its form and decoration, this incense burner might have appealed to the aristocratic taste of the time.
Located in the Shaanxi province in Northern China, Yaozhou was a production centre of ceramics for hundreds of years. Since the Tang dynasty (618-907), the kilns had created a wide range of ceramics in varying styles. Perhaps inspired by the success of the Yue celadon kilns of Zhejiang in southern China, by the Five Dynasties period (907-960) Yaozhou produced predominantly green-glazed stoneware for which it is best known today. During the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) Yaozhou kilns saw their peak production, becoming the foremost manufactories of celadon wares in China. They had developed a style of their own, suitable for production on a large scale, and produced not only for the home market but also for export abroad. While they manufactured bowls and dishes with carved or moulded designs in vast quantities, vessels in other shapes, such as the present incense burner, are rare but were generally given particular attention.
See a Yaozhou tripod incense burner from the collection of the Chang Foundation, Taipei, similarly moulded and applied with foliage between lion-mask and ring motifs, illustrated in James Spencer, Zhongguo lidai taoci xuanji / Selected Chinese Ceramics from Han to Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 1990, pl. 38. Compare also three incense burners with relief decoration of the archaistic kui phoenix from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234); one in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, and one with upright handles in the Shanxi History Museum, both illustrated in The Masterpieces of Yaozhou Ware, Osaka, 1997, cat. nos 104 and 105; and one in the Shang Shan Tang Collection, illustrated in Marvels of Celadon: The Shang Shan Tang Collection of Yaozhou Wares, Hong Kong, 2019, cat. no. 91.
Sotheby's. Monochrome III, Hong Kong, 22 April 2021