A large Cizhou vase of similar proportions to the current vessel, although even more closely constricted above the foot and with a sharper-edged dished mouth, is in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art (Fig. 1), illustrated by G. Hasebe in Sekai toji zenshu - 12 - Song, Tokyo, 1977, pp. 110-11, no. 109. The Freer vase shares with the current vessel a similar style of floral scroll, deeply carved and with short incised lines providing texture to the petals and leaves. The two vases also share the band of large petals around the foot. Another Cizhou vase of similar shape, and also with large-scale petals around the foot, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, vol. 10, Tokyo New York San Francisco, 1980, col. plate 11. Although the technique used to produce the decoration on the Boston vase is similar to that on the current vase and its counterpart in the Freer Gallery, the peony scroll on the Boston vase is in a different style, and its shoulder bears large cloud-like motifs.
The form of all three of these vases with their wide mouths, long slender necks and S-profile bodies with flaring foot, is also seen in even more elongated form amongst Liao wares. One such vase excavated in 1974 from a Liao tomb in Liaoning province is illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Taoci juan, Taipei, 1993, p. 313, no. 484. Although this Liao vase has a floral design cut through its white slip, the cut is less deep and the style of the decoration differs from that on the Cizhou vases. The elongated version of this form also occurs amongst undecorated white Liao vases. For one such vessel excavated in the 1950s from the tomb dated AD 959, belonging to a member of the Liao royal house, at Dayingzicun, Chifengxian, Liaoning province, see Kaogu xuebao, 1956: 3, pl. 8-3.
Amongst Cizhou vases there are several vessels which share a similar style of decoration with the current vase, including vases which also share the long slender neck and wide dished mouth. However, some of these vases do not have bodies with the same S-profile and flared foot seen on the group discussed above. This second group of Cizhou vases includes one in the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Fig. 2), illustrated by Y. Mino and J. Robinson in Beauty and Tranquility: The Eli Lilly Collection of Chinese Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1983, pp. 186-7, no. 67, another sold in Hong Kong in May 1989 from the British Rail Pension Fund, and a third in the Minneapolis Museum of Art, illustrated by Y. Mino in Freedom of Clay and Brush through Seven Centuries in Northern China: Tz'u-chou Type Wares, 960-1600 A.D., Indiana University Press, 1980, p. 42, fig. 16. These latter vases all have a sharp junction between the shoulders and the sides of the vessels, while the main body is essentially ovoid and stands on a short, straight, splayed foot.
The mannered style of the floral band that comprises the main decorative band on the current vase is distinctive, and was undoubtedly influenced by metalwork. It appears not only on vases, but also on ewers, such as the example in the Tokyo National Museum, which is illustrated in Song Ceramics, Tokyo, 1999, p. 126, no. 87. A fragment of a vessel decorated in this style was exhibited in Kiln Sites of Ancient China - Recent Finds of Pottery and Porcelain, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1980, p. 155, no. 389. This fragment had been found in 1962 at a kiln site at Quhezhen, Dengfengxian, Henan province.
All Cizhou wares bearing this distinctive style of floral motif, deeply cut through the white slip on the surface of the vessel using the sgraffiato technique to reveal the buff-colored clay beneath, which then provides the background to the design, tend to be attributed to this kiln site, which was active from the Tang to the Yuan dynasty, and reached its peak of production during the Song. Interestingly a very similar floral scroll incised in simple lines through the white slip using a fine point can be seen on a Northern Song dynasty pillow excavated in 1989 at the Qingliangsi kiln site at Baofeng, Henan Province and illustrated in Ceramic Finds from Henan, University Museum and Art Gallery, University of Hong Kong, 1997, p. 83, pl. 54. Qingliangsi was also the site of imperial Ru ware production in the latter years of the Northern Song dynasty.
The style of floral scroll on the current Cizhou vase, which is characterized by flower heads with narrow sharply cut petals, also appears on early Northern Song ceramics from kilns which were patronized by the court. It can be seen, for example, on the shoulder of a Ding ware vase excavated in 1969 from the so-called 'underground palace' of a pagoda at the Jingzhongyuan Temple at Dingzhou, Hebei province, illustrated in Treasures from the Underground Palaces - Excavated Treasures from Northern Song Pagodas, Dingzhou, Hebei Province, China, Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Japan, 1997, no. 88. Along with other treasures this Ding vase was sealed into the base of the pagoda when it was built in AD 995. A similar floral scroll also appears on a Yaozhou celadon ewer in the collection of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, illustrated by G. Hasebe in Sekai toji zenshu - 12 - Song, Tokyo, 1977, pl. 187. It is a style of floral decoration that appears to have found particular favour in the early part of the Northern Song dynasty.
The result of Oxford Authentication thermoluminescence test no. P208b16 is consistent with the dating of this lot.