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The vase is robustly potted with a mallet-shaped body with angular, sloping shoulders. The tall neck is flanked by a pair of handles in the form of dragon-headed fish, below the widely flared, dish-shaped mouth. The vase is covered overall with an even glaze of soft sea-green color, which ends in an irregular line above the unglazed foot rim.
13 ¾ in. (35 cm.) high, silk pouch, Japanese double wood box
Takeyama Kanshichi (1854-1907) Collection, Nagoya, Japan.
Takeyama Kanshichi Collection, Shunjuen, Nagoya, Japan; Osaka Bijutsu Club, 20 January 1914, lot 274.
Mineo Hata Collection, Kobe, Japan.
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Lot Essay

A Magnificent and Unusually Large Longquan Celadon Kinuta Vase
Rosemary Scott, Independent Scholar

While Longquan vases of this form and with such an exquisite glaze have been highly prized from the time of their manufacture to the present day, the current vase would have been especially revered for its exceptional size and the shape and accomplished rendering of its handles. Kinuta vases were made with two types of handles – the more usual being in a relatively simple bird form (generally identified as a phoenix) and the rarer being in the form of a well-modelled dragon-fish. The current vase has especially fine dragon-fish handles.

The Japanese name kinuta, refers to a mallet, as these are regarded as mallet-shaped vases, and were imported into Japan in the Southern Song (1127-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties. Like the current example, they were often characterised by especially fine Longquan glazes, and so the term kinuta is also sometimes applied as a complimentary term in relation to a glaze. In the Northern Song dynasty (AD 960-1127) the mallet form with wide flattened mouth, sharp shoulder junctions and almost straight sides, was made in two of the ceramic wares associated with the imperial court. A small number of Ding wares were made in this form, and an example with reduced mouth is in the collection of the Percival David Foundation (illustrated by Stacey Pierson in Song Ceramics - Objects of Admiration, Percival David Foundation, London, 2003, p. 20-1, no. 1). Perhaps more significantly, Ru wares made specifically for the Northern Song court, have been found in this form. A mallet-shaped Ru ware vase with wide flattened mouth was excavated in 1987 at the kiln site of Qingliangsi, Baofengxian, Henan province (Grand View: Special Exhibition of Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2006, pp. 114-5, no. 23), while the National Palace Museum, Taipei has two similar Ru ware vases with damaged mouths (ibid., pp. 116-19, nos. 24 and 25). The shape, despite resembling a paper mallet, may in fact have been introduced to China as a glass vessel from the Islamic west, possible Iran. Fragments of glass vessels of this shape were found in 1997 amongst the cargo of the Intan wrecked ship excavated off the Indonesian coast. This ship is believed to date to the Northern Song period. An Islamic glass vessel of this form was also found in 1986 in the tomb of the Princess of Chen of the Liao dynasty, the terminus ante quem for which is 1018 (illustrated ibid. cat. no. 25, fig. 2). It may also be significant that, according to the Southern Song scholar Hong Mai (1123-1202) in his Yijianzhi (Record of the Listener), the Northern Song Emperor Huizong (r. 1100-1126) had a collection of imported glass.

The esteem in which Longquan kinuta vases are held can be seen in the approbation they have received in modern Japan. A kinuta vase, with phoenix handles (height of 30.8 cm.), known as Bansei (Ten Thousand Cries), in the Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi, Osaka, has been designated as a Japanese National Treasure (see Special Exhibition – Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, 1994, p. 125, no. 182). Another of phoenix-handled Longquan mallet vase (height of 29.2 cm.), from the Ataka Collection, now in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka (see Gakuji Hasebe (ed.), Sekai Toji Zenshu, vol 12, Sung, Tokyo, 1977, no. 209), has been designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese authorities (Fig. 1), as has an example, height 26.2 cm., known as Sensei (A Thousand Cries) in the Yomei Bunko, Kyoto (see Museum of Oriental Ceramics Osaka, Song Ceramics, 1999, p. 104, no. 67). Longquan twin-handled kinuta vases can be found in several other collections in Japan, such as the Tokyo National Museum (see Illustrated Catalogues of Tokyo National Museum – Chinese Ceramics, Tokyo, p. 91, no. 372), the Nezu Museum, and the Hatakeyama Memorial Museum (see S. Hayashiya and H. Trubner, Chinese Ceramics from Japanese Collections, Asia House Gallery, New York, 1977, no. 22). An example with dragon-fish handles from the Tokugawa Art Museum, Nagoya, is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Heavenly Blue: Southern Song Celadon, Nezu Museum, 2010, no. 23) (Fig. 2), while two further examples from the collection of the Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo, were included in the same exhibition (nos. 24 and 25).

The majority of surviving Longquan vases of kinuta form are between 23 and 30 cm. high – such as the phoenix-handled vase in the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, which is 25 cm. tall (see, Dynastic Renaissance – Art and Culture of the Southern Song – Antiquities, Taipei, 2011, pp. 88-9, no. II-6). However, there is a group of smaller examples like the vase with bird-shaped handles from the Qing Court Collection in the Palace Museum, Beijing (height 17.5 cm.) illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum – 33 – Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), Hong Kong, 1996, p. 110, no. 98, and the vase with dragon-fish handles (height 17.1 cm.), which was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1950. Two kinuta vases were excavated from a Southern Song dynasty tomb in Songyang county in 1983 – one with dragon-fish handles was 16 cm. high, while the other had phoenix handles and a height of 26.5 cm (see Zhu Boqian (ed.), Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Taipei, 1999, pp. 148-9, nos. 115-6). A Yuan dynasty phoenix-handled vase (height 25 cm.) was excavated from a hoard at Wenjia, Kaixian, Chongqing city (previously part of Sichuan province) and is now in the National Museum of the Three Gorges.

The current vase is one of a very small group of taller kinuta vases, and stands at 35 cm. high—with perfectly harmonious proportions. A vase, 35.6 cm. high, with bird handles and crackled glaze was excavated in Sichuan province prior to 1939, and is illustrated by Gakuji Hasebe (ed.) in Sekai Toji Zenshu, vol 12, Sung, op. cit., no. 208; it is believed to be currently in a private Japanese collection. A kinuta vase 33.5 cm. high with phoenix handles is in the collection of the Gotoh Museum of Art, Setagaya City, Tokyo (see Gotō bijutsukan meihin zuroku [Illustrated masterpieces from the collection of Gotoh Art Museum], Tokyo, 1960, pl. 86).

The current vase, which comes from an important late 19th-early 20th century private collection in Nagoya, is unusual not only in its height (35 cm.) but in having handles in the shape of yulong or feiyu (dragon-fish). These creatures have fish-like bodies and dragon-shaped heads, and are depicted in considerable detail, in contrast to the more common bird-shaped handles, which are rarely depicted in any great detail. Dragon-fish are mentioned in Chinese literature as early as the Bronze Age, and appear in legends related in the Shanhaijing (Classic of Mountains and Seas). They were included in painted and incised decoration on ceramics of the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907), from kilns such as Changsha and Yue, but do not seem to occur in three-dimensional high-fired ceramic form until the Song (AD 960-1279) and Liao (AD 907-1125) dynasties. By the Song dynasty handles such as these depicted a carp in the process of turning into a dragon. This evokes a legend, which dates from at least as early as the Eastern Han dynasty, and tells of the carp swimming up river to the Dragon Gate Falls. If it is successful in leaping over the gate it turns into a dragon. This legend soon came to represent the success of the Chinese scholars, who studied hard to pass the civil service examinations, and if they achieved the highest grade would attain a good official post. Such dragon-fish handles came to be applied to vessels made in precious metals during the Mongol period. A gold cup with twin handles of this type, probably originating from the Golden Horde in the late 13th-14th century, is in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg and was included in the New York Metropolitan Museum’s 2002 exhibition The Legacy of Genghis Khan – Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256-1353, catalogue no. 139, illustrated p. 18, fig. 11.

In addition to the Beijing Palace Museum and Songyang county vases mentioned above, a small number of other kinuta vases with dragon-fish handles have been published. An example (height 16.8 cm.) from the collection of Sir Alan Barlow, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and is illustrated by Rose Kerr in Song Dynasty Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2004, p. 94, no. 95. Another small example (height 16.3 cm.) from the Meiyintang collection is illustrated in Musée Cernuschi, L’Âge d’Or de la Céramique Chinoise, Paris, 1999, p. 118, no. 88. One of the two vases of this type in the Carl Kempe collection is 20 cm high and the other measures 26 cm. (see Bo Gyllensvärd, Chinese Ceramics in the Carl Kempe Collection, Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm/Göteborg/Uppsala, 1962, p. 51, nos. 98 and 99 respectively). A further kinuta vase with dragon-fish handles (height 25.9 cm.) is in the Freer Gallery of Art, illustrated in The Freer Gallery of Art, I China, Washington D.C., 1972, no. 89. Other known examples of dragon-fish handled Longquan vases include one from the Njoo collection is 26 cm high (exhibited in Chinese Celadons and Other Related Wares in Southeast Asia, Arts Orientalis, Singapore, 1979, pl. 73, left), and a kinuta vase from the Brodie Lodge collection, which is 28 cm. high, and was exhibited in London in 1960 (see Oriental Ceramic Society, The Arts of the Sung Dynasty, The Arts Council, London, 1960, no. 173, pl. 64, right). A further dragon-fish handled vase, height 28.5 cm., formerly in the possession of Lord Matsudaira Fumai (1750-1818), was sold by Christie’s New York in March 2008, lot 561.

It is clear that such vases were appreciated in Japan from Kamakura period (1192-1333) as evidenced by two examples, which were excavated from the wreck of a vessel which sank off the Sinan coast of Korea in about 1323 on its way to Japan, (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Xin’an haidi wenwu [Cultural Relics from the Sinan Seabed], National Museum of Korea, Seoul, 1977, colour plate 3). This vessel would have left China from the port of Ningbo, Zhejiang province, and a shard of the neck and dragon handle from one of these kinuta vases was excavated from the ancient wharf site of Dongmenkou at Ningbo (see Zhejiangsheng wenwu kaogusuo xuekan, 1981, pl. XI:8).

While Chinese ceramics had long been admired in Japan, the Kamakura period (1192-1333), coinciding with the Southern Song dynasty, saw a renewed vogue in Japan for Chinese art. Indeed, the Japanese scholar Professor Hiroko Nishida has noted that in the Kamakura period: ‘…the majority of the art and decorative art objects used in the ceremonies, interior decoration and tea drinking events of Buddhist Temples and the military class were objects imported from China.’ (Hiroko Nishida, ‘The Collection and Appreciation of Chinese Art Objects in 15th-16th Century Japan, and their Legacy’, Collecting Chinese Art: Interpretation and Display, S. Pierson (ed.). Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia No. 20, Percival David Foundation, London, 2000, p. 10.) These objects were called karamono (Chinese things). Excavated evidence for their popularity can be seen in profusion not only in Kamakura itself, but at a variety of historical sites throughout Japan. Significant numbers of Song and Yuan Chinese ceramic sherds have been excavated at the Ichijo-dani site in Fukui prefecture, the Kusadosengen site in Hiroshima, several sites in Kyoto, and the port city of Hakata (Nishida, op. cit.). In addition, some major Japanese temples still have in their possession Song dynasty Chinese ceramics, which have been preserved over the centuries. The Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto, for example, has in its collection a Longquan vase of the same form as the current example, with dragon-fish handles (see Daitoku-ji no meiho, Kyoto, 1985, pl. 96).

The current vessel is a particularly impressive example of this greatly admired type of Longquan kinuta vase.

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