Dingzhou patterned porcelains rival the beauty of carved red jade,
When Lugong brews tea in Sichuan style.
-Su Shi (1037-1101), Poem on Tea Brewing at the Examination Hall
In a 1072 poem titled Shiyuan jiancha (Tea Brewing at the Examination Hall), the venerated Northern Song literati and statesman Su Shi wrote Lugong jiancha xue Xishu, Dingzhou huaci zhuo hongyu, recalling the event when his friend Wen Yanbo (style name Lugong, 1006-1097) brewed tea using practices from Sichuan area, the colour of tea turned red against a carved Ding white-glazed bowl, the resulting effect resembled carved red jade. This important record reveals to us that not only were Ding bowls used for tea drinking, but were also favoured by esteemed literati in the Song dynasty for its luminous white glaze, which created an attractive contrast with tea colour. Interestingly, two decades after Su Shi wrote the poem on Ding white porcelains, in 1093 he was appointed Governor of Dingzhou, the state where the Ding kilns were located. Being a well-respected connoisseur and artist, Su Shi’s praise undoubtedly solidified the status of Ding porcelains amongst subsequent connoisseurs. The Jin-dynasty scholar Liu Qi (1203–1259), for example, wrote in his poem: Dingzhou huaciou, yanse tianxia bai (decorated porcelain bowls from Dingzhou have the best white colour under Heaven).
The present bowl is particularly desirable for its elegant form, fluent carving and resplendent glaze. A very similar bowl of almost identical decoration and form, formerly in the Oppenheim Collection and now in the British Museum, is illustrated in, The World’s Great Collections: Oriental Ceramics, vol.5., pl. 20. Another closely related example, illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the Idemitsu Collection, Japan, 1987, no. 413, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 1 December 2009, lot 1863. A hexafoil bowl of similar form and size, but with lotus carved in a slightly different style, dating to the Jin dynasty, is in the Beijing Palace Museum Collection, illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji – Dingyao, Shanghai, 1981, pl. 90. Compare also to a Ding bowl of similar shape, but carved with different floral motifs featuring curling foliage, formerly in the Mrs. Alfred Clark and J.T. Tai collections, sold at Sotheby’s New York, 22 March 2011, lot 167.