"Yuteki Tenmoku" is inscribed in gold lacquer on the cover of the black lacquer inner box.
"Foremost family heirloom", "Tea bowl", "One" written on a paper slip on the cover of wood box.
Song Dynasty Brown lacquer circular bowl stand, zhantuo, inscribed inside the foot and the mouth with tea master's mon.
Ming Dynasty Yellow and gold brocade silk, kinran, pouch.
Green and gold brocade silk pouch.
Gilt-metal-decorated brown lacquer box, probably early Edo period.
STARS IN THE NIGHT SKY – A RARE AND PRECIOUS JIAN WARE TEA BOWL
Rosemary Scott, International Academic Director Asian Art
The dark-glazed tea bowls made at the Jian kilns in the Song dynasty are important not only for their beauty and technical innovation, as well as for what they tell us about tea culture, but also because they are amongst the most internationally influential ceramics of medieval China. They provided inspiration for potters elsewhere in East Asia – notably Japan – and also, in later years, inspiration for potters in Europe. The current bowl is one of a small group of Jian wares with an especially fine and rare ‘oil spot’ glaze.
The black-glazed stonewares made at the Jian kilns in northern Fujian province differ from those made at the kilns in north China, and indeed those made at the Jizhou kilns of Jiangxi province, in the colour and texture of their clay body. Significantly, the Jian ware body has high iron content, which obviated the necessity to use an iron rich slip on the body under the glaze, although there are other compositional differences between the bodies found at the various Jian ware kilns. For example, while those of the Daluhoumen and Yingzhangqian kilns were similar, the body at the Anweishan kiln exhibited some differences (see Feng Xiangqian, et al., ‘Provenance and dating study on Jianyao Kiln porcelain bodies using NAA and WDXRF’, www.researchgate.net/ publication/290346851).
The great beauty of Jian wares lies in their glazes, which are fired between 1250-1350ºC, and are largely similar to those of the northern black wares, but with a little more alumina to cope with the higher firing temperatures. The glaze is overloaded with iron - c. 6%, while the maximum that a lime-based glaze can dissolve is c. 5.5% - and the excess precipitates out. It is this precipitation which creates the stunning visual effects in the glazes. The Jian glazes are also liquid-liquid phase separated glazes and the formation of little glass droplets in the glaze during phase separation helps to carry the excess iron to the surface. At the early stage of this process the droplets appear as tiny flecks giving the speckled appearance of a ‘tea dust’ glaze. As the droplets move to the surface and burst they produce the effect known as ‘oil-spot’ and then, if the glaze is allowed to run, it carries the burst droplets with it the effect of streaking that is known as ‘hare’s fur’ is produced. The streaking is enhanced by the growth of micro crystals in the excess iron oxide during cooling, and the varied colours of the different states of iron oxide create the decorative effects.
The best known of the Jian ware glaze effects, where different colours of iron oxide provides delicate streaks running down the sides of the tea bowls, is usually known as ‘hare’s fur’ in English, tu hao wen in Chinese, and nogime temmoku in Japanese. Much rarer are the glaze effects with spots, rather than streaks, and which required catching the glaze at the point when the optimum spotting was achieved, but before the glaze ran and created streaking. There are three rare and particularly prized spotted glaze effects associated with Jian wares. The one known as ‘oil spot’ in English, yuteki , literally ‘oil drop’ in Japanese, Chinese pinyin youdi, has shimmering iridescent spots, as on the current bowl, which resemble clusters of stars against the night sky. Another spectacular spotted Jian glaze is known as Yohen literally ‘brilliant [kiln] transmutation’ in Japanese, and in Chinese yaobian. In this glaze effect the spots themselves are dark but have iridescent halos. The third spotted Jian ware glaze has dense white spots on the dark glaze, which were described by one Northern Song poet as looking like melting snow on dark water. There is debate amongst scholars as to whether this latter glaze or the ‘oil spot’ glaze is the one referred to in various historical texts as zhegu ‘partridge [feather]’. There are at least seven different types of partridge in China with different markings, so it is difficult to be sure which the authors of historical texts had in mind, and indeed whether they are consistent. However, Wu has pointed out that the Chinese Francolin Partridge has markings similar to the Jian glazes with white spots (Marshall P.S. Wu, ‘Black-glazed Jian Ware and Tea Drinking in the Song Dynasty’, Orientations, vol. 29, no. 4, April 1998, p. 29). Nevertheless, the ‘oil spot’ glaze is more delicate and iridescent, and perhaps better evokes the appearance of feathers.
An international team comprised of scientists from France (Catherine Dejoie, Philippe Sciau and Laure Noé), the People’s Republic of China (Li Weidong, Chen Kai, Luo Hongjie and Liu Zhi), and the US (Apurva Mehta, Martin Kunz and Tamura Nobumichi) undertook a study of Jian ware glazes using a wide range of investigative techniques - including optical microscopy, electron microscopy, Raman spectroscopy and synchroton x-ray techniques, which was published in 2014 as ‘Learning from the Past: Rare e-Fe2O3 in the ancient black-glazed Jian (Tenmoku) wares’, in Scientific Reports 4:4941; doi:10.1038/srep04941. Previous studies had concluded that the iron oxides which provided the streaks in the Jian ‘hare’s fur’ glaze were hematite (a-Fe2O3), and that the crystallized iron in the shining silver spots on the ‘oil spot’ glaze were magnetite (Fe3O4). The scientists in the 2014 study were astonished to find that the crystals in the ‘oil spot’ glaze were in fact remarkably pure e-Fe2O3 phase (the epsilon phase), a very rare and metastable relative of hematite. (Smaller quantities of e-Fe2O3 were found in the Jian ‘hare’s fur’ glaze, but these were mixed with hematite.) The find in relation to ‘oil spot’ glazes is remarkable, not least because this epsilon phase was only identified by scientists in 1934, while its crystalline structure has only been known since 1995, and only understood since 2005. It is a material that has important applications in the modern world, but it has proved very hard to make in laboratories – the crystals produced there being very small and contaminated by other phases. The epsilon phase crystals in the Jian ‘oil spots’ are not only significantly larger than those produced by modern methods, but are also exceptionally pure. Once again, the Song dynasty potters have been shown to be masters of their materials.
In the Qingyi Lu, attributed to Tao Gu and written sometime between 960 and 970, right at the beginning of the Song dynasty, the author notes that tea bowls from Fujian were particularly treasured by connoisseurs, and have glazes resembling the spots of partridge feathers. This would seem to be a direct reference to Jian wares and suggests that they were produced as early as the 10th century. This early date is further suggested by the excavations undertaken at the Jian ware kiln site of Luhuaping in 1977, when the remains of a Five Dynasties kiln producing celadon wares was discovered directly beneath the black wares kiln (see Zeng Fan, ‘Fujian Taoci de Lishi’, appendix to Zhongguo Taoci Bianji Weiyuanhui, Fujian Taoci, Zhongguo Taoci, Shanghai, 1988, section 5). However, the high-point of production for Jian ware tea bowls appears to have been the period between the mid-Northern Song and the mid- Southern Song dynasty. Although black glazes had long been popular in China, prior to the Tang dynasty none displayed the intensity of colour or the glossiness of the finest wares. This was due to the fact that the early glazes were high-lime, and such glazes could not support more than 3-4% of iron oxide, while 6% was required for a good black glaze. In the Tang dynasty, however, a base glaze that was lower in lime, and nearer to a balanced lime-alkali glaze was produced in central China using clays, which were iron-rich but contained a wide range of high-temperature fluxes. This allowed the production of deep, glossy black glazes, which provided the foundation for development of the exceptional black glazes in both north and south China during the Song dynasty.
The reason for the popularity of such wares was not simply that black glazes were at last successfully fired. Other factors also made fine black-glazed wares desirable. These included changes in tea culture in China which took place in the Song dynasty. During this time the popularity of drinking tea spread both geographically within China, and to elite social groups. It became customary to offer tea to guests, and tea parties were regularly held, not only for normal social intercourse, but also to embark on tea-tastings, and to demonstrate expertise in tea preparation. This became very popular with the scholar-official class, and even with emperors. (Fig. 1) The Northern Song Emperor Huizong (r. 1101-25), who was famous for his refined tastes, was a great connoisseur of tea and even wrote a twenty-chapter treatise entitled Da Guan Cha Lun (Discourses on Tea), published in 1107.
The processing of the picked tea leaves changed in the Song dynasty, with new emphasis on purification and the removal of any extra tea juices, as well as grinding, using water driven mills to produce a particularly fine tea powder. This fine powdered tea was prepared for drinking using the whipping method, which in turn led to the popularity of tea preparation contests. Some tea would be scraped off the pressed cake of tea. It would be carefully dried in a pan and ground and sieved to ensure the fineness of the resulting powder. The tea bowl would be warmed with boiling water. A small amount of tea would be put in the tea bowl with a very small amount of boiling water and mixed into a paste. More water would then be added from a ewer with a long narrow spout in a controlled, strong flow and the mixture would be whisked with a bamboo whisk to obtain a pale froth on the surface. The person who was able to produce the richest froth, which lasted longest was adjudged the most skillful. Tea bowls with dark-coloured glazes were thus especially desirable since the pale froth of the whipped tea was shown to best advantage against a contrasting glaze. Black-glazed tea bowls were therefore made at a number of kilns in the Song dynasty, including the Ding kilns of Hebei province, but the bowls most frequently praised in historical texts were those from the Jian kilns of Fujian province.
Cai Xiang (1012-1067), who was a famous Northern Song calligrapher and government official in Fujian, as well as a connoisseur of tea, noted in his Cha Lu (Records of Tea), published in 1060, that:
‘The white froth stands out best in a black tea bowl. Tea bowls made in Jian’an were glazed black and with streaks resembling hare’s fur. Their body is slightly thicker than normal, and retains the heat for a long time. Hence they are the most suitable.’
Cai Tao, who also came from Fujian, said of his uncle Junmo (Cai Xiang) that the latter had ten tea bowls, four having hare’s fur glazes, which he thought produced an effect resembling butterflies’ wings, and which Cai Xiang greatly prized (see Cai Tao’s biji , entitled Tieweishan congtan , vol. 6). It was partly the influence of Cai Xiang that resulted in tea from Fujian being recognised as the finest quality tea, since he initiated the production of the superb small Dragon Tribute cakes of tea.
There are many references to Jian ware tea bowls in the writings of Song dynasty literati. Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), one of the four great calligraphers of the Song dynasty, who was also a poet, painter and government official, alludes to them in several works. These include Manting Fan, which contains the lines: yan gao jian ru, jin lü zhegu ban,
‘The whisked milk-like froth [of the tea], [reveals] the golden wisps of partridge [feather] speckles’. While the reference to Jian wares is made even clearer in Huang Tingjian’s Heda Mei Ziming Wang Yangxiu dian Miyunlong, which includes the lines: Jian’an ciwan zhegu ban, Gulian shui yu yue gong se,
‘In the Jian’an ware bowls with partridge [feather] speckles, the water from Gulian shares the same colours as the moon’.
Emperor Huizong also recorded a particular appreciation of black tea bowls from Fujian in his Da Guan Cha Lun, and there are several surviving references to the emperor personally preparing tea for selected ministers, as a special mark of favour, apparently using Jian ware tea bowls. One such occasion took place in the third month of the second year of the Zhenghe reign (1112) at a special banquet in the Taiqing tower to honour Cai Jing (1047-1126 - father of Cai Tao, mentioned above). On this occasion the emperor used the finest tea, recently sent as tribute from Fujian, prepared it with Huishan spring water, and served it in tea bowls with fur-like glaze [Jian ware]. Cai Jing records two more such imperial banquets – one of these took place in the first year of the Xuanhe reign (1119) in the Baohe Hall, when again the emperor prepared the tea himself. The third occasion recounted by Cai Jing took place in the second year of the Xuanhe reign (1120) during a banquet in the Yanfu Palace. Cai Jing described the appearance of the white froth in the tea bowl and uses the phrase ‘scattered stars and a tranquil moon’ , which could describe the froth on the surface of the tea against an ‘oil spot’ Jian ware glaze.
That Jian ware tea bowls were also used at the court of the Southern Song emperors appears to have been confirmed by the discovery in 2012 of a damaged Jian ware tea bowl with rare yohen glaze near the site of the Southern Song palace at Hangzhou, Zhejiang province (illustrated in Treasures of the Fujita Museum: The Japanese Conception of Beauty , Fukuoka City Art Museum, 2015, p. 192, figs. 1-3). It seems clear that some tea bowls made at the Jian kilns were specifically made for the Song emperors. Certain inscriptions were applied to the base of Jian tea bowls before firing. Some of these are single characters, and may refer to the maker or the prospective owner of the bowl, some are numbers and some appear to be geometric marks – perhaps indicating a particular workshop. Importantly archaeologists have found bowls which had the characters jin zhan ‘bowl for presentation [to the emperor]’ impressed into the exterior base within the foot ring, while others had the characters gong yu ‘for imperial use’ incised into the exterior base. It may be significant that the character zhan was used on these Jian ware tea bowls, since, as Wu has noted, the character originally referred to small jade cups and provides an indication of the high regard in which these ceramic vessels were held in the Song period (Marshall P.S. Wu, op. cit., p. 25). Interestingly, the Palace Museum, Beijing, has in its collection a Jian ware bowl which bears the inscription Da Song Mingdao, which refers to the Mingdao reign (1032-1033) of the Northern Song Emperor Renzon (1022-1063), (illustrated in Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum – 33 – Hong Kong, 1996, p. 223, no. 205).
As noted in the introductory essay to this catalogue, Japanese Zen Buddhist monks encountered Jian ware bowls during the Song dynasty when they visited Chan Buddhist monasteries in the beautiful Tianmu mountain area of Lin’an county, west of Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, known for the two lakes which give it its name Tianmu ‘eyes of heaven’, and for its magnificent cedar trees and waterfalls. This area was just north of the kilns producing Jian ware bowls, which were used by the monks in the monasteries of the Tianmushan area for drinking tea. (fig. 2) On reaching Japan these bowls became highly prized by certain Japanese tea masters, and made a significant contribution to the development of styles within the Japanese tea ceremony.
In addition to the Jian ware bowl itself, the current lot includes a black-lacquered box with beautifully-written gold lacquer inscription reading: Yoteki Tenmoku , and a plain wooden inner box. In addition, there is a lacquered Song dynasty bowl stand bearing the kaou of a Japanese tea master, and two silk draw-string pouches – all of which are themselves important objects. (Fig. 3) The yellow and metallic-gold brocade draw-string pouch is of particular interest. Such pouches, known as shifuku , were made in Japan for tea containers and particularly precious tea bowls used in the tea ceremony. The famous tea masters chose to use meibutsugire ‘celebrated textiles’ for these pouches, and often the items came to be known by the name of the place or famous person with whom they were associated. These meibutsugire were also used for the fukusa small cloth wrappers used in the tea ceremony, and for mounting hanging scrolls. Among the most valued textiles were those imported from China in period from the 14th to the 18th century. These textiles entered Japan either as kasaya (Buddhist clerical robes) brought back by monks returning to Japan from China, or as part of Sino-Japanese trade. As time went on even the smallest fragment of these historical Chinese textiles was treasured and might be used, for example, to embellish the robe of an important person from the military class. The most prized of all the Chinese textiles used for shifuku were those known as kinran ‘gold robe’ in Japanese, but more often referred to in Chinese as jinjin ‘gold brocade’. This was often a lampas weave in silk and metallic thread, which had a gold (or silver) design, usually produced by incorporating gold applied to fine strips of paper. It is this kinran/jinjin which appears to have been used to make the yellow and gold pouch for the current tea bowl. The silk was probably woven in the Jiangnan region of southern China in the latter years of the Ming dynasty. This coincided with the period when the famous Japanese tea master Kobori Enshu (1579-1647) became fascinated with imported textiles and introduced them into the tea ceremony. (In 2014 the Kyoto National Museum held an exhibition entitled: Luxurious Imported Textiles: Buddhist Robes and Meibutsugire, which examined this important subject.) A kinran/jinjin of very similar design to the textile used for the current pouch is illustrated by the tea master Kobori Sokei (1923-2011) in Monryo Meibutsugire kagami Kinginran, Fujokai Shuppansha, Tokyo, 1986, p. 22, no. 3. The current Jian ware tea bowl is also accompanied by a green and golden-coloured kinran shifuku, which may also date to the late Ming dynasty. The design on the fabric of the green and gold pouch is very similar to that on a Ming dynasty reversible red and yellow duan (damask) with a mixed flower scroll and bees preserved in China and illustrated by Gao Hanyu, et al., in Chinese Textile Designs, (R. Scott and S. Whitfield translators), London, 1986, p. 98, no. 74, and a red Ming dynasty qi, illustrated in the same volume, p.103, The current Jian ware tea bowl has a most illustrious history – belonging to the Kuroda Family Collection and the Ataka Collection before entering the Linyushanren Collection.
The Kuroda clan originated in Harima Province , and served first the Ota and then the Toyotomi clans. For his service as a strategist, Kuroda Yoshitaka (1546-1604) was granted the lordship of Nakatsu Castle in 1587. The Kuroda Clan’s involvement with the tea ceremony can be traced back to Kuroda Yoshitaka, who was also known as Kuroda Josui, after he renounced his Christian affiliations and name on the orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536- 98) in 1587. Not only was Kuroda Yoshitaka the chief strategist to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he also became a friend of the famous tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), and wrote a treatise on the principles of tea. The current ‘oil spot’ Jian tea bowl has been handed down through the Kuroda family and contemporary documentation goes back to Marquis Kuroda Nagashige (1867- 1939), who was the first son of Kuroda Nagatomo (1835-1902). In 1878 Kuroda Nagashige succeeded as head of the family, and in 1884 he became a koshaku (marquis) and in the same year went to Britain to study at Cambridge University. After his return home in 1889, he became an officer of the Imperial Household Ministry, but resigned in 1890. In 1892 he entered the Kizoku-in (House of Peers), becoming its vice-chairman in 1894 – a position he held for many years. In 1924 he was appointed to the Sumitsu-in (Privy Council). Marquis Kuroda Nagashige was also a noted calligrapher, with an interest in both Chinese and Japanese poetry. The current ‘oil spot’ Jian ware bowl was inherited by his son Marquis Kuroda Nagamichi (1889-1978), a well-known ornithologist. This tea bowl had been registered in Japan as an Important Art Object on 18 December 1935, and the List of Important Art Objects published by the Japanese Ministry of Culture in 1943, notes that, at that time, the bowl belonged to the 14th head of the Kuroda clan, Marquis Kuroda Nagamichi. By the mid-1970s the tea bowl had entered the famous Ataka Collection, and was published on a number of occasions. In 2015 it was deregistered at the request of the current owner.
This rare bowl with its illustrious history and remarkable accoutrements is an important part of the history of Chinese Song dynasty ceramics and the development of tea drinking in China, as well as the history of ceramic appreciation and the tea ceremony in Japan. It is also a vessel of consummate beauty.