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The deep, rounded conical sides are covered inside and out with a thick, iridescent black glaze suffused with a dense pattern of variegated iridescent ‘oil spots’, stopping in an irregular line and pooling above the foot, exposing the blackish-brown body. The mouth rim is mounted with a silver band.
4 7/8 in. (12.4 cm.) diam., shifuku silk pouch, Japanese black-lacquered box
Acquired in Japan, 1970s.
Japanese private collection, Kamakura.
Post Lot Text
Inspiring Contemplation – A rare Jian ware tea bowl
Rosemary Scott, Senior International Academic Consultant Asian Art

This beautiful tea bowl belongs to a rare group of black-glazed bowls made at the Jian kilns of Fujian province. These kilns became famous in the Song dynasty for their tea bowls made using the local high-iron clay and decorated with dark glazes in which the iron content was deliberately manipulated to create different states of iron oxide in a range of colours and decorative effects. The current bowl is one of only a small group of vessels from these kilns which bear the rare speckled glaze known as ‘oil spot’ in English, yuteki (油 滴), literally ‘oil drop’ in Japanese, pronounced youdi in Chinese. It is characterised by the myriad of tiny iridescent spots which cover the surface of the black glaze. The appearance of tea in such a bowl was described by Cai Jing (蔡京 1047-1126) as resembling ‘scattered stars and a tranquil moon’ (疏星澹月), where the ‘scattered stars’ would be the iridescent spots on the dark glaze, and the ‘tranquil moon’ would be the pale circle created by the froth on the surface of the tea.

Although black glazes had long been popular in China, prior to the Tang dynasty none displayed the desirable intensity of colour or the glossiness of the later wares. This was due to the fact that the early glazes were high-lime, and such glazes could not support more than 3-4% of iron oxide, while 6% was required for a good black glaze. In the Tang dynasty, however, a base glaze that was lower in lime, and nearer to a balanced lime-alkali glaze was produced in central China using clays, which were iron-rich but contained a wide range of high-temperature fluxes. This allowed the production of deep, glossy black glazes, which provided the foundation for development of the exceptional black glazes in both north and south China during the Song dynasty. The black-glazed stonewares made at the Jian kilns in northern Fujian province differ from those made at the kilns in north China, and indeed those made at the Jizhou kilns of Jiangxi province, in the colour and texture of their clay body. Significantly, the Jian ware body had a high iron content, which obviated the necessity to use an iron- rich slip on the body under the glaze, as was applied to the pale-bodied wares at the Henan kilns of the north.

It is the remarkable glazes on Jian ware tea bowls that has attracted the devotion of connoisseurs throughout the centuries. These glazes are largely similar to those of the northern black wares, but with a little more alumina added to cope with the higher firing temperatures of between 1250-1350oC. The glaze is overloaded with iron - c. 6%, while the maximum that a lime-based glaze can dissolve is c. 5.5% - and the excess precipitates out. It is this precipitation which creates the stunning visual effects in the glazes. The Jian glazes are also liquid-liquid phase separated glazes and the formation of little glass droplets in the glaze during phase separation helps to carry the excess iron to the surface. At the early stage of this process the droplets appear as tiny flecks giving the speckled appearance of a ‘tea dust’ glaze. As the droplets move to the surface and burst they produce the effect known as ‘oil-spot’ and then, if the glaze is allowed to run, it carries the burst droplets with it and the effect of streaking that is known as ‘hare’s fur’ is produced. The streaking is enhanced by the growth of micro crystals in the excess iron oxide during cooling, and the varied colours of the different states of iron oxide create the decorative effects. The different colours of iron oxide are most obvious in the delicate streaks running down the sides of the tea bowls of the type usually known as ‘hare’s fur’ in English, tu hao wen (兔毫紋) in Chinese, and nogime temmoku (禾目天目) in Japanese.

The so-called ‘oil spot’ glaze, seen on the current bowl, is much rarer than the streaked glaze. In part, this is probably because the timing of the firing was even more critical in order to catch the glaze at the point when the optimum spotting was achieved, but before the glaze ran and created streaking. There are two more spotted Jian glazes - one is known as Yohen (曜変), literally ‘brilliant [kiln] transmutation’ in Japanese, and in Chinese yaobian (曜變). In this glaze effect the spots themselves are dark but have iridescent halos. The other spotted Jian ware glaze has dense white spots on the dark glaze, which were described by one Northern Song poet as looking like melting snow on dark water. There is debate amongst scholars as to whether this latter glaze or the ‘oil spot’ glaze is the one referred to in various historical texts as zhegu (鷓 鴣) ‘partridge [feather]’. The ‘oil spot’ glaze is more delicate and iridescent, and perhaps better evokes the appearance of feathers, however, as there are at least seven different types of partridge in China with different markings, it is difficult to be sure which the authors of historical texts had in mind, or indeed whether they are consistent.

An aspect of Jian ware ‘oil spot’ glazes, which had not been appreciated by art historians until relatively recently, was the fact that, when fired, they contained a rare variant of iron oxide, which modern scientists struggle to produce in laboratory conditions. An international team comprised of scientists from France (Catherine Dejoie, Philippe Sciau and Laure Noé), the People’s Republic of China (Li Weidong, Chen Kai, Luo Hongjie and Liu Zhi), and the United States (Apurva Mehta, Martin Kunz and Tamura Nobumichi) undertook a study of Jian ware glazes using a wide range of investigative techniques - including optical microscopy, electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy and synchroton x-ray techniques, which was published in 2014 as ‘Learning from the Past: Rare ε-Fe2O3 in the ancient black-glazed Jian (Tenmoku) wares’, in Scientific Reports 4:4941; doi:10.1038/srep04941. Previous studies had concluded that the iron oxides which provided the streaks in the Jian ‘hare’s fur’ glaze were hematite (α-Fe2O3), and that the crystallized iron in the shining silver spots on the ‘oil spot’ glaze were magnetite (Fe3O4). The scientists in the 2014 study were astonished to find that the crystals in the ‘oil spot’ glaze were in fact remarkably pure ε-Fe2O3 phase (the epsilon phase), a very rare and metastable relative of hematite. (Smaller quantities of ε-Fe2O3 were found in the Jian ‘hare’s fur’ glaze, but these were mixed with hematite.) The find in relation to ‘oil spot’ glazes is remarkable, not least because this epsilon phase was only identified by scientists in 1934, while its crystalline structure has only been known since 1995, and only understood since 2005. It is a material that has important applications in the modern world, but it has proved very hard to make in laboratories – the crystals produced there being very small and contaminated by other phases. The epsilon phase crystals in the Jian ‘oil spots’ are not only significantly larger than those produced by modern methods, but are also exceptionally pure.

The high-point of production for Jian ware tea bowls appears to have been the period between the mid-Northern Song and the mid-Southern Song dynasty. However, the excavations undertaken at the Jian ware kiln site of Luhuaping (蘆花坪) in 1977, revealed the remains of a Five Dynasties kiln producing celadon wares, which was discovered directly beneath the black wares kiln (see Zeng Fan, ‘Fujian taoci de lishi’, appendix to Zhongguo Taoci Bianji Weiyuanhui, Fujian Taoci, Zhongguo Taoci, Shanghai, 1988, section 5) – suggesting that the black wares were being made in the late Five Dynasties-early Northern Song period. Such an early date is also suggested by a passage in the Qingyi Lu (淸異錄), attributed to Tao Gu (陶穀), and written sometime between AD 960 and 970, right at the beginning of the Song dynasty, where the author notes that tea bowls from Fujian were particularly treasured by connoisseurs, and have glazes resembling the spots of partridge feathers. This would seem to be a direct reference to Jian wares and suggests that they were produced as early as the 10th century.

There were a number of factors which contributed to the rise in popularity of black-glazed wares during the Song dynasty. Not only were the potters able to create black glazes with rich depth of colour and glossy surface, but changes in tea culture in China necessitated tea bowls which had dark glazes. While the drinking of tea was already customary in the south of China by the early Tang dynasty, it only spread to the rest of China in the 8th century – possibly as a corollary of the spread of Chan Buddhism. In the late 8th century Fengshi wenjian ji (封氏聞見記Things Seen and Heard by Mr. Feng) the author notes that a requirement of Chan Buddhism was that aspirants had to forgo sleep and abjure the partaking of food in the evening, but were allowed to drink tea. Mr. Feng explains that the Chan Buddhists carried tea with them wherever they went and that people copied them, thus spreading the tea-drinking habit. The drink became very popular not only with the scholar-official class, but even with emperors, and the Song Empeor Huizong (r. 1101-25), who was famous for his refined tastes and was a great connoisseur of tea, wrote a twelve-chapter treatise on tea, Daguan Cha Lun (大觀茶論 Discourses on tea in the Daguan era, 1107-1110), published in 1107. Thus tea drinking became a much more sophisticated activity in the Song dynasty, and acquired a considerable degree of elegance, which was reflected in the vessels made for its consumption.

During most of the Tang dynasty tea was made by adding the finely ground tea powder to boiling water in a cauldron, but towards the end of the dynasty another method became popular. In this method, which became the norm in the Song dynasty, boiling water was poured from a ewer onto powdered tea which had already been placed in a tea bowl. Even the tea used in this method was different from that previously employed. In the Song dynasty there was new emphasis on purification and the removal of any extra tea juices, as well as grinding, using water driven mills, to produce a particularly fine tea powder. In preparation, some tea would be scraped off the pressed cake of tea, and would be carefully dried in a pan and then ground and sieved to ensure the fineness of the resulting powder. The tea bowl would be warmed with boiling water. A small amount of tea would be put in the tea bowl with a very small amount of boiling water and mixed into a paste. More water would then be added from a ewer. The Shiliu tang ping (十六湯品 Sixteen grades of water) by the Tang dynasty author Su Yi (蘇廙), notes the importance of the technique used to pour water from the ewer onto the powdered tea. The flow of water had to be strong, even and accurate, to the extent that the method is known in Chinese as diancha fa (點查法) – literally ‘point tea method’. The mixture would be whisked with a bamboo whisk to obtain a pale froth on the surface.

As tea drinking became ever more popular, and it became customary to offer tea to guests, tea parties were regularly held, not only for normal social interaction, but also to embark on tea-tastings, and to demonstrate expertise in tea preparation. The person who was able to produce the richest froth, which lasted longest, was adjudged the most skilful. Tea bowls with dark-coloured glazes were thus especially desirable since the pale froth of the whipped tea was shown to best advantage against a contrasting glaze. Black-glazed tea bowls were therefore made at a number of kilns in the Song dynasty, including the Ding kilns of Hebei province, but the bowls most frequently praised in historical texts were those from the Jian kilns of Fujian province. It is perhaps not surprising that fine tea bowls should have been made in the area of Jian’an in Fujian, since that region had a history of fine tea cultivation that predated the Song dynasty. Indeed this area had sent tea as tribute to the court prior to the Song and continued to do so. In the mid-11th century two officials, Ding Wei (丁謂) and Cai Xiang (蔡襄), were responsible for the tribute tea sent to court, and one of their innovations was making the tea cakes themselves into works of art, moulding them with designs of dragons and phoenixes. Instead of being strung together through holes in their centres, as in the Tang dynasty, these tribute cakes of tea were carefully and individually packaged before they were sent to court. To be given such a cake of tea by the emperor was a rare honour, and it is known that the great literati and statesman Ouyang Xiu (歐陽脩 1007-72) was granted only one such cake of tea in all his 20 years of service to the court (see Ling Wang, Tea and Chinese Culture, San Francisco, 2005, p. 29). One of the two officials, Cai Xiang, who was also a famous calligrapher, wrote a two volume treatise on tea entitled Cha Lu (茶錄 Records of Tea), published in 1060 especially for Emperor Renzong (r. 1023-63). The first volume discussed the properties of the teas themselves as well as how to store tea and how to brew tea. The second volume discussed tea utensils. In the Cha Lu, Cai Xiang noted, that:
‘The white froth stands out best in a black tea bowl. Tea bowls made in Jian’an are glazed black and with streaks resembling hare’s fur. Their body is slightly thicker than normal, and retains the heat for a long time. Hence they are the most suitable.’
Cao Tao (蔡絛), who also came from Fujian, said of his uncle Junmo君謨 (Cai Xiang) that the latter had ten tea bowls, four having hare’s fur glazes, which he thought produced an effect resembling butterflies’ wings, and which Cai Xiang greatly prized (see Cao Tao’s biji (筆記), entitled Tieweishan congtan (鐵圍山叢談), vol. 6).

There are many references to Jian ware tea bowls in the writings of Song dynasty literati. Huang Tingjian (黃庭堅1045-1105), one of the four great calligraphers of the Song dynasty, who was also a poet, painter and government official, alludes to them in several works. These include Manting Fan (滿庭芳), which contains the lines: yan gao jian ru, jin lü zhegu ban,
金 縷 鷓 鴣斑
‘The whisked milk-like froth [of the tea], [reveals] the golden wisps of partridge [feather] speckles.’ While the reference to Jian wares is made even clearer in Huang Tingjian’s Heda Mei Ziming Wang Zixiu dian Miyunlong (和 答梅子明 王 揚休 点 密 雲 龍), which includes the lines: Jian’an ciwan zhegu ban, Gulian shui yu yue gong se,
建安瓷碗鷓 鴣斑
‘In the Jian’an ware bowls with partridge [feather] speckles, the water from Gulian shares the same colours as the moon’.

Emperor Huizong also recorded a particular appreciation of black tea bowls from Fujian in his Da Guan Cha Lun, and there are several surviving references to the emperor personally preparing tea for selected ministers, as a special mark of favour, apparently using Jian ware tea bowls. One such occasion took place in the third month of the second year of the Zhenghe reign (1112) at a special banquet in the Taiqing tower (太清樓) to honour Cai Jing (蔡京 1047-1126 - father of Cao Tao, mentioned above). On this occasion the emperor used the finest tea, recently sent as tribute from Fujian, prepared it with Huishan spring water, and served it in tea bowls with fur-like glaze [Jian ware]. Cai Jing records two more such imperial banquets – one of these took place in the first year of the Xuanhe reign (1119) in the Baohe Hall (保和 殿), when again the emperor prepared the tea himself. The third occasion recounted by Cai Jing took place in the second year of the Xuanhe reign (1120) during a banquet in the Yanfu Palace (延福 宮).

In 2012, a damaged Jian ware tea bowl with rare yohen glaze was discovered near the site of the Southern Song palace at Hangzhou, Zhejiang province (illustrated in Fukuoka City Art Museum (国宝 曜変天目茶碗と日本の美), 2015, p. 192, figs. 1-3). This find suggests that Jian ware tea bowls were also used at the court of the Southern Song emperors, and it seems clear that some tea bowls made at the Jian kilns were specifically made for use by the Song emperors. Inscriptions were applied to the base of certain Jian tea bowls before firing. Some of these are single characters, and may refer to the maker or the prospective owner of the bowl, some are numbers and some appear to be geometric marks – perhaps indicating a particular workshop. Importantly, however, archaeologists have found bowls which had the characters jin zhan (進盏) ‘bowl for presentation [to the emperor]’ impressed into the exterior base within the foot ring, while others had the characters gong yu (供御) ‘for imperial use’ incised into the exterior base. It may be significant that the character zhan (盏) was used on these Jian ware tea bowls, since, as Wu has noted, the character originally referred to small jade cups and provides an indication of the high regard in which these ceramic vessels were held in the Song period (Marshall P.S. Wu, ‘Black-glazed Jian Ware and Tea Drinking in the Song Dynasty’, Orientations, vol. 29, no. 4, April 1998, p. 25). Interestingly, the Palace Museum, Beijing, has in its collection a Jian ware bowl which bears the inscription Da Song Mingdao (大宋明道), which refers to the Mingdao reign (1032-1033) of the Northern Song Emperor Renzong (仁宗) (1022-1063), (illustrated in Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum – 33 – Hong Kong, 1996, p. 223, no. 205).

These Jian ware bowls were not only admired by the Chinese elite. Japanese Zen (禅) Buddhist monks encountered Jian ware bowls during the Song dynasty when they visited 禪 Chan Buddhist monasteries in the beautiful Tianmu mountain (天目山) area of Lin’an (臨安) county, west of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, known for the two lakes which give it its name Tianmu (天目) ‘eyes of heaven’, and for its magnificent cedar trees and waterfalls. This area was just north of the kilns producing Jian ware bowls, which were used by the monks in the monasteries of the Tianmushan area for drinking tea. The Japanese monks took examples of these bowls back to Japan, where the bowls became highly prized by Japanese tea masters, and made a significant contribution to the development of styles within the Japanese tea ceremony, as well as providing inspiration for Japanese potters. Such tea bowls have continued to be prized by Japanese connoisseurs and cherished in Japanese Zen monasteries. Prior to entering a private Japanese collection, the current bowl was in the possession of a Japanese Buddhist temple in Eastern Japan.

In addition to its black-lacquered box, dating to the Meiji (明治時代 1868-1912 or Taisho (大正時代 1912-1926) period, the bowl has an important Ming dynasty silk draw-string pouch, made of the type of textile known in Japan as ko-watari (古渡り), indicating that it was imported into Japan before the Edo period (1603 – 1868). Such pouches, known as shifuku (仕覆), were made in Japan for tea containers and particularly precious tea bowls used in the tea ceremony. The famous tea masters chose to use meibutsugire (名物裂) ‘celebrated textiles’ for these pouches, and often the items came to be known by the name of the place or famous person with whom they were associated. These meibutsugire were also used for the fukusa (袱紗) small cloth wrappers used in the tea ceremony, and for mounting hanging scrolls. Among the most valued textiles were those imported from China in the period from the 14th to the 18th century. These textiles entered Japan either as kasaya (Buddhist clerical robes) brought back by monks returning to Japan from China, or as part of Sino-Japanese trade. As time went on, even the smallest fragment of these historical Chinese textiles was treasured and might be used, for example, to embellish the robe of an important person from the military class. The most prized of all the Chinese textiles used for shifuku were those known as– kinran (金襴), ‘gold robe’ in Japanese, but more often referred to in Chinese as jinjin (金錦) ‘gold brocade’. This was often a lampas weave in silk and metallic thread, which had a gold (or silver) design, usually produced by incorporating gold applied to fine strips of paper. It is this kinran/jinjin which appears to have been used to make the pouch for the current tea bowl. The silk was probably woven in the Jiangnan region of southern China in the latter years of the Ming dynasty. This coincided with the period when the famous Japanese tea master Kobori Enshu (小堀遠州 1579-1647) became fascinated with imported textiles and introduced them into the tea ceremony. (In 2014 the Kyoto National Museum (京都国立博物館) held an exhibition entitled: Luxurious Imported Textiles: Buddhist Robes and Meibutsugire (袈裟と名物裂 ―舶載された染織), which examined this important subject.) A kinran/jinjin of very similar design to the textile used for the current pouch is illustrated by the tea master Kobori Sokei (小堀宗慶1923-2011) in Monryo Meibutsugire kagami Kinginran (文竜 名物裂鑑 金銀襴), Fujokai Shuppansha (婦女界出版社), Tokyo, 1986, p. 25, no. 16. This design, and the one on the silk pouch accompanying the current bowl, resemble a pattern known in Japan as Honganji Kinran (本願寺金襴) – so-called because it was introduced to the Nishi-Honganji Temple (西本願寺) in Kyoto, which was founded in 1321, and became associated with that temple in Japan. However, the pattern also became popular with wealthy merchants and tea masters in the late 16th century.

Kinran/jinjin textiles woven in China during the 16th and early 17th century were often decorated with scrolling floral designs – most frequently either peonies, lotus or mixed floral scrolls. The flowers woven into the silk of the pouch belonging to this bowl appear to be peonies, which lend themselves particularly well to designs created using this weaving technique. It is interesting to note that the 16th century Japanese admiration for this type of gold floral scrolling design was reflected in some Jiajing porcelains which found particular favour in Japan. These porcelains have become known by the Japanese name kinrande (金襴 手). They are primarily bowls or vases decorated on the exterior with either monochrome colours or with polychrome designs. The salient feature of these kinrande wares is that they have gold decoration applied to the surface. The gold was put in place, and then details were scratched through the gold. This decoration resembles the woven gold designs of the kinran/jinjin silks – although in the case of the porcelains, the flowers on the scrolls are almost invariably lotus. On the polychrome examples the gold is often restricted to the red areas of the design. The majority of the monochrome bowls in the group are red, green or blue, although rare examples of white bowls are known, such as those in the Percival David Collection, illustrated by Rosemary Scott in Imperial Taste – Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation, Los Angeles/San Francisco, 1989, p. 67, no. 37. Thus, not only the current bowl itself, but also the silk pouch in which it has been kept, forms an important part of ceramic history.

In contrast to the opulence of the silk pouch, the tea bowl exudes a quiet magnificence, and it is easy to imagine an 11th century monk, seated in preparation for meditation, holding this precious tea bowl, gazing into the shimmering darkness of its glaze, and relinquishing worldly cares.

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