This type of leaf decoration is the most iconic and daring artistic creation in Jizhou kilns, revered by both Chinese and Japanese connoisseurs. As discussed by Robert Mowry, such decoration was created by affixing a leaf to the interior of a bowl and then immersing the bowl in the dark brown glaze slurry. When fired in the kiln, chemical reactions robbed the leaf of its dark brown colour rendering it transparent. The end result was a ghostly impression of the leaf structure, typically golden amber or pale yellow in colour. It is important to note that during the firing, edges of the leaf were often burnt curled, which caused an incomplete impression. A successful execution of the leaf decoration as represented by the present piece is rare.
The idea of perpetuating a perishable leaf on an enduring object embodies various philosophical thoughts, in particular, Zen Buddhism. Jiangxi is the common home of five clans and seven schools of the Zen Buddhism. In Song dynasty, Jizhou housed more than fifty Zen Buddhist Monasteries. During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), Japanese disciples of Zen Buddhism brought home the Buddhism laws together with tea drinking habit and fine utensils. Tea bowls such as the present example are still highly praised in Japan today and are termed Konoha Tenmoku.
The conical form such as the current ‘leaf’ bowl is the most revered type of Jizhou ‘leaf’ bowls. A similar Jizhou ‘leaf’ bowl, classified as Important Cultural Property, is in The Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, is illustrated by Asahi Shimbun, Song Ceramics, Tokyo, 1999, p. 117, no. 79. Another bowl of this type in the National Palace Museum collection is illustrated in Songci tezhan mulu (Illustrated Catalogue of Song Ceramics), Taipei, 1978, p. 50, no. 20. Other comparable bowls include one in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, illustrated in in The Charles B. Hoyt Collection in the Museum of Fine Arts: Boston, Vol. II, Boston, 1972, no. 131; and one decorated with a three-pronged leaf, illustrated in Mayuyama Seventy Years, Tokyo, 1976, vol. 1, p. 225, no. 677. More numerous are bowls with rounded sides, such as the small ‘leaf’ bowl unearthed from a tomb dated to the second year of the Kaixi reign (1206) in Shangrao city, Jiangxi province, illustrated in the Zhongguo chutu ciqi quanji (Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China), Beijing, 2008, vol. 14, p. 54; and a similar small bowl in the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, discussed and illustrated by Robert Mowry in Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Patridge Feathers: Chinese Brown-And Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400-1400, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1996, p. 261, no. 108. Compare also a small number of rare examples of Jizhou bowls that are decorated with more than one leaf, such as one from the Art Institute of Chicago, illustrated in Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Patridge Feathers: Chinese Brown-And Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400-1400, op. cit., p. 260, no. 107; and another example in the Baur Collection, Geneva, illustrated by John Ayers in The Baur Collection: Chinese Ceramics, Geneva, 1968, vol. 1, no. A67.