The simple and elegant form of the present conical bowl represents the quintessential aesthetics of the Song period. Conical bowls of this type were used in Song dynasty tea-making games that were judged largely by how long the froth lasted. The conical shape is particularly suitable for this game since a water mark can be better observed on the straight flaring wall. It was possibly also for this reason that the conical bowl form became a popular shape among major Northern and Southern kilns. In Ding kilns, conical bowls were applied with three types of decoration: black/brown glaze; moulded designs; and carved designs. The first type is comprised
of a small number of highly prestigious examples, known as black Ding and purple Ding in traditional literature, including a ‘partridge feather’ black Ding conical bowl in the Linyushanren Collection, previously sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, One Man’s Vision: Important Chinese Art from The Manno Art Museum, 28 October 2002, lot 515. The second group is of slightly later dating; including examples with moulded pomegranate design, chrysanthemum design, and various bird designs, see Tsai Meifen, Decorated Porcelains of Dingzhou: White Ding Wares from the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2014, nos. II-98, II-100-102, and II-121-124.
The carved examples such as the present bowl are also rare as the carvings could not be easily executed on thin walls of the conical shape. A similar Ding conical bowl with daylily design but of smaller size is in the collection of the Taipei Palace Museum, illustrated in Empty Vessels, Replenished Minds: The Culture, Practice, and Art of Tea, Taipei, 2002, p. 42, no. 18. For two examples with carved peony and pomegranate designs, please see Tsai Meifen, Decorated Porcelains of Dingzhou: White Ding Wares from the collection of
the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2014, nos. II-25, 26. Another prominent carved design on Ding conical bowl is spiralling linear pattern, resembling a stylised lotus leaf. One Ding conical bowl with this design was in the Qing Court Collection and included in one of Qianlong Emperor’s ceramic albums, Jingtao yungu (Refined Ceramics of Collected Antiquity), and illustrated in Obtaining Refined Enjoyment: The Qianlong Emperor’s Taste in Ceramics, Taipei, 2011, pp. 234-235, no. 109.
Lotus is a popular decorative theme on Ding wares, for its quality of ‘rising from the mud unsullied, bathed by clear waves but not seductive’, as expressed in a famous poem, Passion for the Lotus by Song scholar-official Zhou Dunyi (1017- 1073). Another symbolic meaning of Lotus is derived from its phonetic similarity with the phrase ‘incorruptible’ in Chinese. Therefore, vessels decorated with lotus were particularly suitable for the scholarofficial class.