This rare dish combines a beautiful and, for the potter, challenging form, with a most auspicious design. Few Ding ware dishes with multi-petalled sides and a flattened rim are known, and relate to silver examples like that illustrated in Chinesisches Gold und Silber Die Sammlung Pierre Uldry, Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 1994, no. 271. A number of these chrysanthemum-shaped dishes without the flattened rim are extant in international collections, but the flattened rim provided a particular risk in firing. These dishes were fired upside-down on their mouth rims. As can be seen from this example, the thin ridge around the edge of the flattened rim is very low, and it was this that was wiped clear of glaze and on which the piece would have been finely balanced in the kiln. If the dish had distorted during firing, the horizontal, glazed, part of the rim would have stuck to the inside of the sagger or the setter and the dish would have been ruined. It is not therefore surprising that such pieces are rare.
Both the shape and the decoration of the Ding dish have been produced using a mold, which allowed precision in form and delicacy in design. It is interesting to note that the decoration on the interior base of dishes of this form is often more pictorial than on other forms. An example in the Tokyo National Museum combines animals and vases of flowers. See M. Tregear, Song Ceramics, London, 1982, p. 69, fig. 68. In the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, there is an example with a design of a deer with bands around its neck seated surrounded by seasonal flowers illustrated in Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ting Ware White Porcelain, Taipei, 1987, no. 96. Also in the National Palace Museum is a similarly-shaped Ding ware dish, which shares with the current dish the same treatment of petals on the flattened rim, and has a complex design of flowers in the interior, ibid. no. 97. A third example of this form in the same Palace collection has an ogival quatrefoil panel containing a blossoming tree, ibid. no. 98. A hoard of ceramics unearthed in Zhili province included a Ding ware dish of this form with a design of incense burners and flower vases, Wenwu, 1988:7, pl. 6, fig. 1 and p. 75 fig. 3-7. A dish excavated in 1974 at Xiheliucun and now in the Cultural Institute Quyangxian, Hebei, has a similar decoration on the flattened rim to that on the current dish, while its interior depicts a scene of cranes among bamboo and rocks, Zhongguo taoci quanji - 9 - Dingyao, Shanghai/Tokyo, 1981, no. 107. A second dish in the same collection, excavated in 1974 from the same site, has a design of peonies and hibiscus, ibid., 115. A dish now in the Meiyintang Collection has a design of a spotted deer, wearing a head-collar and surrounded by flowers and is illustrated by R. Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 1, London, 1994, p. 206, no. 364.
The design in the center of the current dish is particularly auspicious. The auspicious emblems carried by the running figure are self-explanatory. The peaches are symbolic of longevity. The deer, shown here with a bow tied around its neck, is not only a symbol of long life, but also of official emolument. Deer are believed to live to a great age and they are also thought to be the only animals that are able to locate the lingzhi (fungus of immortality), hence their association with longevity. Deer are associated with official emolument because the words for these in Chinese are pronounced similarly. Thus the decoration on the dish contains a forceful wish for long life. In addition to the pieces mentioned above, several other Ding ware dishes include deer in their decoration. One such dish, with unlobed sides and rim in the Victoria and Albert Museum, depicts two deer - one with a lingzhi fungus in its mouth - running through scrolling plants and is illustrated by J. Ayers, Far Eastern Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980, no. 22. Another straight-rimmed dish in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan, bears a decoration of a deer with lingzhi fungus in its mouth amidst scrolling clouds; Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ting Ware White Porcelain, op. cit., no. 118.
In addition to the chrysanthemum-petalled dishes, there are a small number of others with flattened rim. One with eight-lobed sides and rim is in the collection of the Percival David Foundation, illustrated by R. Scott, Imperial Taste - Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation, San Francisco, 1989, pp. 28-9, no. 7. The rim of this dish is decorated with petal forms filled with concentric triangles, while the interior base has a design of peacocks in a garden. A dish in the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, has bracket- lobed sides and rim, the latter decorated with classic scrolls and the interior with birds flying amidst flowers; Song Ceramics, Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1999, p. 68, no. 31.