A VERY RARE LARGE CIZHOU SGRAFFIATO JAR
A VERY RARE LARGE CIZHOU SGRAFFIATO JAR

JIN DYNASTY (1115-1234)

Details
A VERY RARE LARGE CIZHOU SGRAFFIATO JAR
JIN DYNASTY (1115-1234)
The deep, slightly tapered sides are carved through the brown slip to the white slip ground with a wide band containing a geometric triangular pattern, beneath a narrower band of abstract scrolls. The brown slip stops just before the mouth rim in an irregular pattern revealing the white slip, which extends to the interior, all under a clear glaze that stops above the foot ring to reveal the buff stoneware body.
7 in. (18 cm.) high, Japanese double wood box inscribed by the renowned scholar Fujio Koyama (1900-1975)
Provenance
Kobayashi Ichizo, Osaka.
Sen Shu Tey, Tokyo.
Literature
Sekai Toji Zenshu-10-Song, Liao, Tokyo, 1954, p. 228, no. 101.
The Japanese Ceramic Society, Soji Meihinten (Exhibition of Famous Song Ceramics), Tokyo, 1955, no. 111.
Toki Koza, Chugoku, Song, Tokyo, 1971, no. 45.
Christie's, The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics: An Exhibition of Song Treasures from the Linyushanren Collection, Hong Kong, 2012, p. 132, no. 53.
Exhibited
The Japanese Ceramic Society, Soji Meihinten (Exhibition of Famous Song Ceramics), Tokyo, 1955.
Christie's, The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics: An Exhibition of Song Treasures from the Linyushanren Collection, Hong Kong, 22-27 November 2012; New York 15-20 March 2013; London, 10-14 May 2013.

Lot Essay

While potters at the Ding ??, Yaozhou ???, Ru ??, and other Song ?? kilns took pride in finishing their wares with subtly hued monochrome glazes, typically applied over incised, carved, or molded decoration, those at the Cizhou kilns ??? explored new techniques of decoration that resulted in a new aesthetic vision, as perfectly demonstrated by this jar with its bold designs and contrasting colors. This new vision, based on decorative effects that rely on contrasting colors, would lay the aesthetic foundations for the development of blue-and-white porcelain ???? in the Yuan dynasty ?? (1279–1368). Thus, though neither court nor aristocratic ware, ceramics from the Cizhou kilns nonetheless played a vital role in the development of later Chinese ceramics.

In creating this jar, potters first shaped the piece on the potter’s wheel, then, after allowing it to dry, they covered it all over, inside and out (except for the jar’s underside), with a thick layer of white slip ???, a well-purified clay ground to a fine powder and mixed with water to form a slurry. Once the white slip had stabilized and dried to the proper state, they coated the jar’s exterior with black slip and allowed it to stabilize and dry. Specialized potters then incised the outlines of the decorative elements through the black slip—stylized foliage above and bold chevrons below—after which they shaved the dark slip from the background areas of the design, exposing the underlying white slip. Pioneered and perfected at the Cizhou kilns, this so-called sgraffiato technique successfully put in place the groundwork for two-color designs; utilized for only a few decades, this laborious technique soon gave way to decoration painted in black or brown slip on a white slip ground.

Though often labeled a sawtooth motif and sometimes characterized as lappets or chevrons, the geometric forms in this jar’s main register of decoration more likely represent the tips of lotus petals. Inspired by the lotus-bases of Buddhist sculptures and the relief, lotus-petal designs on Tang ?? silver bowls of the seventh and early eighth centuries, potters at the Yue kilns ?? in Shanglinhu, Zhejiang province ??????, occasionally embellished the exteriors of their bowls and covered boxes with a frieze of rising lotus petals, as witnessed by the famous late Tang Yue-ware bowl in the Percival David Foundation Collection at the British Museum (PDF.262) ??????????????? and the celebrated Five Dynasties or early Northern Song ??, ???? Yue “Mandarin Ducks” box and cover formerly in the Linyushanren Collection ????? (see: Christie’s, The Classic Age of Chinese Ceramics: The Linyushanren Collection, Part II, auction catalogue, 15 September 2016, New York: Christie’s, lot 701). By the Northern Song period, potters at the Ding kilns had incorporated such lotus-petal bands as border decoration around the base of vertically oriented vessels, as seen in the Freer Gallery of Art’s ????????? famous Ding-ware truncated meiping ?? bottle with decoration painted in brown slip (F1959.6), as had potters at several Cizhou kilns (see: J.J. Lally & Co., Chinese Ceramics in Black and White: March 20 - April 10, 2010, New York: J.J. Lally & Co., no. 30). In fact, the border decoration around the lower portion of the Nelson-Atkins Museum’s ?????????? renowned Cizhou dragon vase (36-116) shows a remarkable kinship to the decoration on this jar, from the bold chevron forms to the delicately incised scrollwork that enlivens localized areas (35-116; see: Colin Mackenzie, Masterworks of Chinese Art: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO, 2011, pp. 64-65, no. 18). It is as if the exceptionally innovative Cizhou potters recognized the design potential inherent in a border pattern and brilliantly transformed it into a principal decorative motif.

Stretching over an arc of several hundred miles in northern China, the Cizhou system, or family, of kilns included numerous independent kilns in Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Shanxi, and Shaanxi provinces and even areas farther west. Although its exact location of production remains uncertain, this jar likely was produced in the twelfth century at the Xiuwu kilns ???, roughly eighty miles (100 kilometers) north of present-day Zhengzhou (in Henan province ????). Active from the late Tang (618–907) into the Ming ?? (1368–1644) dynasty, the Cizhou kilns specialized in stonewares dressed with underglaze white slip and boldly incised, carved, or slip-painted designs. They produced humble wares, often taking inspiration from the aristocratic Ding wares. Cizhou wares from the eleventh and early twelfth centuries generally have floral decoration incised or carved through the white slip—or, as in this example, incised and carved through a coating of black slip atop the white slip ground; those from the twelfth through fourteenth centuries often sport decoration—sometimes pictorial, sometimes calligraphic—brushed in black or brown slip on the white slip ground. Untrammeled by the rarefied conventions of the Imperial court, Cizhou potters enjoyed a freedom of expression unknown at the kilns producing aristocratic wares; in a sense, they became the experimental laboratories of the day. Although they did not produce porcelain ??, the Cizhou kilns nevertheless exerted considerable influence on the development of blue-and-white porcelain ????, particularly at Jingdezhen (in northeast Jiangxi province ??????).

A closely related Cizhou jar embellished with a stylized coin pattern, also in sgraffiato technique, that dates to the twelfth century and has been attributed to the Xiuwu kilns is illustrated in Sekai Toji Zenshu (see: Sekai Toji Zenshu [Collection of World’s Ceramics], vol. 10—China: Song and Liao, Tokyo: Zauho Press and Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 1961, no. 101. ??????, vol. 10—?·??, ??: ????????, ??????, 1961, no. 101).


Robert D. Mowry ??
Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art Emeritus,
Harvard Art Museums, and
Senior Consultant, Christie’s

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