This famous, elegant and extremely rare vase is one of a very small number of Cizhou vessels that is closer in style to pieces from the famous Ding kilns than to the majority of other Cizhou wares. It is particularly close in the colour and detailing of the pale brown decoration to that on the Ding ware truncated meiping in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics Osaka, which has been designated an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese authorities (Museum of Oriental Ceramics Osaka, Song Ceramics, Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, 1999, p. 79, no. 42) (see fig. 1). Comparable pale brown designs, with similar incised outlines and combed details can also be seen on a Ding ware pillow in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (published Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 1996, pp 98-9, no. 89).
The current vase shares important aspects of decoration and shape with the Bernat brown-painted Ding ware vase from the British Rail Pension Fund sold by Sotheby's London, 12 December 1989, lot 75. The shape of the current vase is also very closely related to that of two persimmon-glazed Ding vases - one in the Jiangsu Provincial Museum (see Zhongguo taoci quanji, 9 Dingyao, Shanghai Renmin meishu chubanshe/Bi-no-bi, Tokyo, 1981, no. 58) (fig. 2), and another in Japan exhibited in Song Ceramics (op. cit., p. 78, no. 41). These share the extended, slightly flaring, neck and finely potted everted mouth, as well as the generously rounded shoulders and sharply tapered profile of the current vase. A somewhat less extended neck of similar form can also be seen on the sgraffiato Cizhou meiping in the Eisei-Bunko Museum Tokyo, which has been designated an Important Cultural Property in Japan (see Song Ceramics, op. cit., p. 128, no. 89) (fig. 3).
One of the most distinctive aspects of the decoration on the current vase is the appearance of tri-lobed clouds in the band around the lower part of the shoulder. This motif is very rare on Cizhou wares, and undoubtedly shows the influence of precious metal decoration. Clouds of this type can be seen on a silver gilt cup exhibited at the British Museum (see Carol Michaelson, Gilded Dragons, British Museum Publications, London, 1999, p. 127, no. 91). Perhaps more significantly, similar cloud forms also appear on a silver-gilt censer, dated by inscription to AD 977, which was excavated from a pagoda deposit in Dingzhou, Hebei province (see Treasures from the Underground Palaces - Excavated Treasures from Northern Song Pagodas, Dingzhou, Hebei Province, China, Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo, 1997, no. 8). Such clouds also appear on a small number of moulded white Ding wares, such as the conical bowl in the National Palace Museum (see Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ting Ware White Porcelain, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1987, no. 62). The only other Cizhou wares on which these clouds occasionally appear are those decorated in techniques and styles closely linked to silver. A bean-shaped pillow with 'pearl-matting' ground in the Okayama Museum of Art, Japan, has a parrot surrounded by such clouds incised into its upper surface (illustrated by Y. Mino, Freedom of Clay and Brush through Seven Centuries in Northern China: Tz'u-chou Type Wares, 960-1600 A.D., Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1981, pp. 54-5, no. 15).
The only other published Cizhou vase with similar delicate pale brown decoration to that on the current vase is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see S. Valenstein, A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989, colour plate 14). The New York vase has a more typically Cizhou profile than the current vase, but it is not possible to know if the two vessels may originally have had similar neck and mouth forms, since the neck of the New York vase has been restored (ibid., p. 93). It is significant, however, that the somewhat unusual broad-petal overlapping band around the lower body of the current vessel can also be seen around the shoulder of the Metropolitan Museum vase. Although the two vases have different decorative schemes, they share the fact that their floral decoration is in a slightly different style to that seen on Cizhou wares with heavier black designs.
The Guantai kilns of Cixian, Hebei province, seem a possible origin for both the current vase and the vessel in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Excavations have shown that Guantai produced a wide range of Cizhou wares, some of particularly fine quality. Among the vessels recovered from the site is a truncated meiping with dark brown sgraffiato designs, which shares a similar neck and mouth form with the current vase (see Department of Archaeology, Beijing University, et al., The Cizhou Kiln Site at Guantai, Cultural Relics Publishing House, Beijing, 1997, colour plate IX-1). Although complex designs in pale brown have not yet been found at Guantai, vessels with simpler floral and vegetal decoration have been recovered (ibid., colour plate XX-2).