This beautiful bowl represents the peak of celadon production at the Yaozhou kilns. Both the elegance of its potting and the artistry of its decoration mark it as one of the finest Yaozhou wares. The outlines of the peony design on the interior of the bowl has been deeply cut with a slanting blade. This ensures that the edge of each element of the decoration has a considerable depth of clear green glaze next to it, shading to shallower glaze further from the motif. The effect is to give the overall design a bold, dichromatic, appearance. In contrast, the texture of both petals and leaves has been depicted using an especially fine combing device, to produce very delicately incised parallel lines.
The form of this bowl is a variant of one seen at various northern kilns in the Song dynasty, with gently flaring sides rising from quite a sharp junction with an almost flat base. While this form can be seen at its most exaggerated among white wares from the Ding kilns in Hebei, see R. Scott, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art - A Guide to the Collection, London, 1989, p. 39, no. 21, similarly shaped bowls can be seen at other kilns, for example among the celadon wares made at kilns in Qingliangsi, Baofeng, Henan province, which also made Ru wares. See 'Baofeng Qingliangsi Ruyaozhi 2000 nian fajue jianbao', Wenwu, 2001:11, p. 8, fig. 7, no. 1. The Yaozhou version of the form, seen in the current example, has a slightly less sharp junction between the base and the sides of the vessel - to avoid undue disturbance of the fluently carved design - and also reinforces the floral theme by discrete foliation of the mouth rim to suggest a six-petalled flower.
Bowls of similar form and decorative scheme have been excavated from the Yaozhou kilns in the Tongchuan area in Shaanxi. Such pieces have been found in the early Northern Song stratum at the Huangpu kiln. See Shaanxi sheng kaogu yanjiusuo/Yaozhouyao bowuguan, Songdai Yaozhou Yaozhi, Beijing, 1998, p. 206, pl. 107, no. 1; and p. 577, pl. 51, no. 1. Similar pieces also found in the middle Song strata at the Huangbaozhen kiln are illustrated in Shaanxi sheng kaogu yanjiusuo, Shaanxi Tongchuan Yaozhouyao, Beijing, 1965, p. 27, fig. 16, no. 1; p. 21, fig. 13, no. 16; pl. XI, no. 7; and pl. XIV, no. 1. A complete vessel of this form with a carved peony spray on the interior and a floral design on the exterior, found at the kiln site, is illustrated by Shaanxi Travel & Tourism Press, Yaozhou Kiln, 1992. The celadon dish from the Qingliangsi kiln mentioned above also has a similar decorative scheme, including the incised radial lines on the exterior, to that of the current vessel, but without an indented rim.
The elegant style of the peony motif and the great success of the carving on this bowl prompts comparison with some of the most famous and highly regarded Yaozhou wares. The peony scroll on the cover of the famous Yaozhou cylindrical box illustrated by R. Scott, Imperial Taste - Chinese Ceramics from the Percival David Foundation, San Francisco, pp. 32-3, no. 10, is a case in point. Comparison can also be made with the peony motifs on the sides of the famous Yaozhou pillow in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum. See Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka (ed.), The Masterpieces of Yaozhou Ware, Tokyo, 1997, p. 34, no. 37, and the peony on the current dish is especially close to that on the side of the rare meiping in the Palace Museum, Beijing illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 32 - Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), Hong Kong, 1996, pp. 102-3, no. 92.
A bowl of slightly smaller size, but of the same form, including the indented rim, and with a very similar single peony spray on the interior was exhibited anonymously in The Masterpieces of Yaozhou Ware as exhibit 65. Another slightly smaller example, without an indented rim, but with a single peony spray of the same type, is illustrated by G. Hasebe in Sekai toji zenshu 12 Song, Tokyo, 1977, p. 204, no. 196. In the same volume a Yaozhou Song dynasty dish of the same form as the current vessel, but with a different floral spray is also illustrated, p. 64, no. 53.