This rare black-glazed jar is a fine example of decoration complementing form. The spherical shape of this jar benefits from its glossy black glaze, and is highlighted by the russet flower heads scattered over its surface. Another jar of the same size and shape as this example in the collection of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is illustrated by He Li, Chinese Ceramics, London, 1996, p. 166, no. 311. Like the current jar, the San Francisco vessel has black glaze covering the body from the base of the neck to a little more than three-quarters down the sides. The neck, body and exterior foot have been covered with a transparent brown glaze. The handles on the San Francisco jar are further down the sides than on the current jar, and they are not of rope-twist form. In place of the russet floral motifs on the Barron jar, the San Francisco vessel has large splashes made with a single broad brush stroke. Another jar of the same shape and height in the Scheinman Collection is illustrated by R. Mowry, Hare's Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers - Chinese Brown- and Black-glazed Ceramics, 400-1400, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 145-6, no. 40). Like the San Francisco vessel, the Scheimann jar has simple russet splashes on its dark surface, and in the latter case, these are restricted to the upper half of the body of the jar, and each splash is quite large. The Scheinman jar has handles in the same position of the San Francisco vessel, and the handles are ribbed strap handles, in contrast to the Barron rope-twist handles.
In his discussion of the Scheinman jar, Robert Mowry, ibid., has suggested that the jars were first dipped into the thinner caramel brown glaze slurry, covering the whole vessel, and then the upper three-quarters of the vessel was dipped into the thick black glaze slurry. In the case of the current jar, this second dipping would have had to be done with great care to avoid black glaze covering the neck and entering the interior of the vessel, so it may be that the black glaze was brushed on.
The simple but effective device of using five brush strokes to produce a five-petalled flower form in russet on a black ground is particularly attractive on this jar, and is also used on a vase in the collection of the Tianjin Museum illustrated in Tianjinshi Yishu Bowuguan cangci, 1993, no. 43. The russet color was achieved by applying a very high concentration of iron oxide, which supersaturates the glaze in its vicinity, crystallizes on the surface, and appears as red iron oxide (Fe2O3) against the ground of black iron oxide (FeO). The additional iron oxide brush strokes would have been applied to the surface of the unfired glaze, so that when the vessel was fired and the glaze flowed a little, then the russet splash would also have flowed and several of the brush strokes would have become more abstract in appearance.
Rare Song dynasty vessels, like the current jar and the Tianjin vase, on which the russet brush strokes are not simply splashes but have been grouped to form flower heads are undoubtedly the predecessors of Jin and Yuan dynasty vessels with sketchy floral or bird designs in russet color on a black-glazed ground. See R. Mowry, Hare's Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers, op. cit., pp. 159-60, no. 52, and pp. 165-6, no. 55. A number of kilns linked to the Cizhou tradition produced russet-splashed black wares in the Song and Jin periods. The majority of these were in Henan and Hebei provinces, with some slightly different examples being produced in Shandong province. The excellent potting and body material of the current jar suggests that it was made at a Henan or Hebei kiln.
The use of five simple dots or brush strokes to form a simple flower head on the surface of ceramic vessels has a long history in China, and was particularly popular in the Tang dynasty. Both painted and wax resist versions of the design can be seen on Tang dynasty jars. The famous blue-decorated Tang jar in the Museum of Decorative Art in Copenhagen has five-petal flower heads painted in blue on a pale ground, while a Tang sancai jar in the Tokyo National Museum has similar flower heads reserved against a green ground. See M. Sato and G. Hasebe, Sekai Toji Zenshu 11 Sui Tang, Tokyo, 1976, p. 71, no. 51 and pp. 68-9, no. 49, respectively. In the Song dynasty this simple, but effective device was also used to decorate pale slipped vessels with brown flower heads. An unevenly decorated vessel of this pale slipped type is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum is illustrated by Y. Mino, Freedom of Clay and Brush through Seven Centuries in Northern China: Tz'u-chou Type Wares, 960-1600 A.D., Bloomington, Indiana, 1980, p. 112, fig. 115. For more controlled version of this decoration, using seven dots for each flower, in the Kikusui Kogeikan Museum, see G. Hasebe, Sekai Toji Zenshu 12 Song, Tokyo, 1977, p. 242, no. 238. The russet on black version of the design, used so effectively on the current vessel, is very rare.