This well-potted deep bowl on a small-diameter straight foot is one of the most elegant forms produced at the Cizhou kilns, and appears to have been particularly popular during the Jin period. The form was decorated in a number of different styles, but in all cases, including the present example, the foot and the lower part of the exterior were neither glazed nor slipped and the pale beige colour of the clay contrasts with the creamy white of the rest of the vessel. The interior and the upper part of the exterior have a white slip covered with a colourless, transparent glaze.
A number of these deep bowls have been excavated from the Guantai kilns in Cixian, Hebei province. Some of these were left plain white, illustrated in Beijing Daxue Kaogu Xuesi, Guantai Cizhou yaozhi, Wenwu chubanshe, Beijing, 1997, colour pl. VI, no. 2. Some were decorated with linear sgraffiato designs incised through the slip to reveal the body beneath, ibid., colour pl. VI no. 1, monochrome pl. XIII, no. 4. The majority of the deep bowls, both excavated and preserved in collections, are decorated with bold designs painted in black or dark brown slip, cf. ibid., colour pl. VI, no. 3, monochrome pl. XIII, no. 3, left and right, pl. XIV, no1; and Y. Mino, Freedom of Clay and Brush through Seven Centuries in Northern China: Tz'u-chou type Wares, 960-1600 A.D., Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1980, pp. 152-3, pl 64, figs. 170, 171, 173. The most effectively decorated are those, like the current bowl, which have bold black painted decorative motifs, on which details have been incised through the black slip to reveal the white slip beneath, see Guantai Cizhou yaozhi, op. cit., monochrome pl. XIII, no. 3, centre.
One of the most frequently used decorative themes seen on deep bowls decorated using this technique is fish with cross-hatched scales, as seen on the famous bowl from the Ataka Collection, Osaka, illustrated by T. Mikami, Sekai Toji Zenshu, vol. 13, Liao, Jin, Yuan, Shogakukan, Tokyo, 1981, p. 26, no. 16, and the similar bowl in the Idemitsu Collection, Tokyo, illustrated in Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, Song Ceramics, Asahi Shimbun, Tokyo, 1999, p. 144, no. 105. The other popular decorative theme is flowers and plants, such as the bowl illustrated in Sekai Toji Zenshu, op. cit., p. 237, no. 245. Some of the plants and flowers in this technique, seen on deep bowls and also on truncated meiping vessels, were accompanied by butterflies, ibid. p. 237, nos. 244 and 248. It is, however, exceedingly rare to find a deep bowl decorated entirely in butterflies, as is the current example.
This design of butterflies fluttering around the bowl is particularly attractive and appears on one other published example. The other butterfly bowl, which is slightly smaller than the current bowl, is in the Umezawa Collection and is illustrated in Toji Taikei, vol. 39, Cizhou Wares, Heibonsha Series, Tokyo, 1974, no. 58. On both bowls the wings of the butterflies are given texture through the use of incised, parallel lines. These are solid lines on the Umezawa bowl, but are broken lines on the current bowl, giving a more delicate appearance. While capturing the best elements of Jin dynasty Cizhou wares, this rare 12th century bowl has a wonderfully contemporary quality.