DING XIAN PURPLE TRIPOD BOWL
Rosemary Scott, International Academic Director Asian Art
This bulb bowl or flowerpot stand is embellished with a particularly fine Jun glaze. Jun glazes fall into the lime-alkali group and are amongst the most complex of all Chinese glazes. In the last thirty years the glaze has been the subject of much research(1). The Jun glaze, like the majority of Chinese high-firing glazes, is of similar composition to the body, but with added plant ash and lime. Jun wares belong to the celadon group and, to some extent, the blue coloration of the glaze is due to the reduction of small quantities of iron in the glaze during firing. This is true of all celadons, but in the case of the Jun ware glaze its internal structure also plays a significant part in the colour as well as the texture of the glaze. Jun ware glazes have a little more silica and somewhat less alumina in their glaze composition compared to other celadons of north China.
The opalescence and the blue appearance of Jun glazes are, however, enhanced by an in-glaze phenomena known as liquid-liquid phase separation - the formation of tiny globules of lime-rich glass within the silica-rich glaze matrix. For the layman, this has been explained by the American scientists Kingery and Vandiver as an emulsion resembling oil and vinegar salad dressing. To produce this emulsion, the Jun glaze had to be kept at a high temperature for a significant period and had to be cooled slowly. If the temperature was raised too much, the emulsion would have decreased and the glaze would have been transparent, and if the glaze was cooled too quickly then the emulsion would not have time to form and a transparent glaze would also have resulted. If the glaze was cooled for too long a period, it would have appeared almost opaque due to the growth of too many wollastonite crystals. Some of these rounded white crystals were, however, desirable since the pale clouds that they formed added to the beautiful texture of the glaze, as did the gas bubbles which failed to escape from the glaze during firing. All these elements affected the passage of light through the glaze and contributed to its colour and texture.
Stonewares with Jun-type glazes have been found at the Nothern Song Ru ware site at Qingliangsi, Henan province, but the eponymous site for normal Jun wares is Juntai in Yuxian, Henan province, which was excavated in 1964 and 1974 (2), and was located just inside the gate in the northern part of the town of Yuzhou. Yuxian was a very active ceramic producing area from the Tang to the Ming dynasty, as evidenced by the discovery of more than 100 kilns in the area. However, Jun-type wares were also made at kilns in other parts of Henan, as well as in Hebei and Shanxi provinces. Everyday Jun wares such as bowls, dishes, cup-stands, vases and ewers have been found at these sites and also in tombs and hoards which can be dated to the Song, Jin and Yuan periods. These include both monochrome blue and copper splashed wares. The dating of these everyday wares is relatively straightforward.
In contrast to the everyday wares, there is another group of Jun wares relating to plant cultivation, to which the current bulb bowl or flower pot stand belongs, which are well-made using moulds, and which bear a numeral - from one to ten - either incised or stamped on the base before firing. The dating of this group has been controversial, since some scholars in China have been inclined to date them to the Song dynasty, while others have suggested a later date. Extensive archaeological and scientific research in China, which was presented at symposia held in 2005 and 2006, has led the majority of scholars to conclude that these fine-quality numbered Jun wares must date to the Yuan or early Ming dynasty, late 14th-early 15th century. It may be significant that Jun wares do not appear to have been mentioned in Chinese literature before Ming dynasty, but are mentioned with increasing frequency in the latter part of the Ming dynasty. Interestingly, comparisons with ceramics from other kilns, including some excavated from the imperial Ming kilns at Jingdezhen, suggest that these vessels may have been made for the court in the early Ming dynasty, which would account for the high proportion of the extant examples being preserved in the imperial collections.
As mentioned above, these high-quality Jun ware vessels, such as the current bowl, bear Chinese numerals ranging from one to ten impressed or incised into their bases before firing. Judging from the existing vessels of this kind, the numbers relate to the size of the vessels. 'Ten' represents the smallest size, and 'one' the largest. Texts of the Qing period such as the Nan yao biji suggest that the numbers relate to pairs, and while this is too narrow a definition, matching sets of flower pots and stands do indeed appear to bear the same number. Some scholars have indicated that the numbering system would have facilitated the ordering process if, for example, a stand was broken and a new one was required to fit a specific flowerpot. Other scholars believe that these were garden wares for the court, and that the numbering system would have been useful within the palace store rooms. All that can be said with certainty is that the numbers do relate to size, and that a significant number of these numbered vessels have survived in palace collections.
The National Palace Museum, Taipei, also has several Jun ware flower vessels which have inscriptions incised through the glaze on their bases, which indicate the location in which they were used within the Palace during the Qing dynasty. A bulb bowl of the same mallow-petalled form as the current flowerpot, which has the number shi 'ten' impressed into its base, is also inscribed: Ying Tai (Water Terrace), and Xuzhou Yong (For use on the Humble Boat) (3). The Water Terrace was an islet in the Nanhai, South Lake, to the west of the Forbidden City.
High-quality plant Jun-glazed vessels of this type were certainly greatly admired by the emperors of the Qing dynasty, who displayed them in palace buildings and gardens, and included them in court paintings. The majority of surviving vessels of this type have blue glaze on the interior and purple-toned glaze on their exteriors, as in the case of the current bowl. They are a testament to the remarkable skills of both potter and kiln-master, and have been revered by connoisseurs to the present day.
(1) W.D. Kingery and P.B. Vandiver, Ceramic Masterpieces, New York, 1986, pp 93-109; W.D. Kingery and P.B. Vandiver, 'Song dynasty Jun (Chun) ware glazes', Bulletin of the American Ceramic Society, vol. 62, no. 1, pp 1269-79; Chen Xianqiu et al., 'The structural characteristics of Henan antique Jun ware sherds and the evidence of their two kinds of phase separation', Journal of the Chinese Silicate Society, vol. 9, 1981, pp 245-54; Guo Yanyu and Li Guozhen, 'Scientific Analysis of ancient Jun wares', Proceedings of 1989 International Symposium on Ancient Ceramics, Shanghai, 1989, pp 66-72
(2) Zhao Qingyun, 'Henan Yuxian Juntai yaozhi de fajue', Wenwu, no.6, 1975.
(3) Porcelain of the National Museum - Ch?n Ware of the Sung Dynasty, Cafa Co. Ltd., Hong Kong, 1961, P.62, pls. 19 a&b.
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTION