This very rare dish is one of a small group of such vessels with finely fluted interior sides, and a flattened, lobed rim with raised edge. Pieces of this form were fired using the fashao (upside-down) technique, standing on the narrow raised edge, which meant that any warping during firing resulted in failure - hence the rarity of successfully fired pieces, like the current example. The multiplicity of small petal shapes formed by the interior well was probably intended to suggest a chrysanthemum, and thus such dishes are predecessors of the famous chrysanthemum dishes of the Qing dynasty Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns. Along with lotus, orchid and bamboo, the chrysanthemum is regarded as one of the 'Four Gentlemen of flowers', and has traditionally been very highly regarded in China. Chrysanthemums are mentioned in such early classical literature as The Book of Odes, and are symbols of longevity and wealth as well as being the flowers representing autumn. Very few dishes of this form with finely fluted sides and lobed rim are known outside the imperial collections. Three slightly smaller examples in the collection of the National Palace Museum were included in the Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Ting Ware White Porcelain, National Palace Museum, Taipei, October 1987, nos. 96, 97 and 98. Two more dishes of this form, both somewhat smaller than the current example, were excavated in Quyangxian in 1974 and are preserved in the Quyangxian Cultural Relics Bureau, Hebei province. These dishes are illustrated in Zhongguo Taoci Quanji - 9 - Dingyao, Shanghai 1981, nos. 107 and 115.
All of the dishes mentioned above have finely molded complex designs on their interior bases. The molded designs seen on late Northern Song and Jin dynasty Ding wares are particularly well executed. Not only is the body material of the vessels themselves very fine-grained, but the molds made to decorate them were also made of similarly fine-grained clay. This material allowed very precise cutting of the intaglio design into the surface of the mold. It was, however, the skill of the mold makers at the Ding kilns that produced the careful modulation of the design that would appear in low relief on the surface of the finished Ding vessel, as on the bird's wing on the current dish. The fact that the molds were fired only to a low temperature, and were still very porous when used, allowed them to draw water from the clay of the damp vessels pressed onto them, facilitating the more precise impression.
One of the Quyanxian dishes and two of the Taipei dishes have floral motifs molded on the flat interior base. The third Taipei dish has an auspicious design of deer. The second Quyangxian dish has decoration related to the current dish, in that it depicts a crane with bamboo in front of an ornamental rock. The design on the current dish also includes cranes, but has additional auspicious motifs. The tripod incense burner at the center of the design has lotus plants growing in it. The lotus can provide a rebus for harmony (he), as well as being a symbol of beauty and purity. In this case the lotus may provide a rebus for successive (lian) and the incense burner may provide a rebus for an official salary (lu), thus indicating series of promotions. The two cranes symbolize longevity, since the crane is one of the familiars of Shoulao, the Star God of Longevity. The tortoise on the ground between the birds is also a symbol of longevity.
Designs of single orientation became popular on molded Ding ware dishes in the 13th century, particularly on those depicting plants growing from clearly indicated ground, like the design on the smaller fluted dish with unlobed rim from the Falk Collection sold in these rooms 20 September 2001, lot 56. In the case of the current dish, the foreground, in which the birds and tortoise stand, is clearly indicated in the lower section of the design, while the censer, two jardinières, and the plants growing in them, occupy the remainder of the space. Even at this early date, the ceramic artists had adopted the technique, which was to be continued into the Qing dynasty, of depicting the birds on a smaller scale than the flowers in order to achieve a harmonious design.