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Cizhou Ware “Special Blessings” Pillow
磁州窯白地雕「大吉」 紋瓷枕

Length: 24.5 cm. (9 5/8 in.)
Width: 17.0 cm. (6 3/4 in.)
Height: 13.5 cm. (5 1/4 in.)

Northern Song period 北宋
11th-early 12th century

The finely crafted stoneware pillow is of rectangular form with a slanted concave headrest. The top and four sides were covered with an off-white slip providing a ground for the finely incised, carved and ring-punched designs. The dynamic décor is centered on two characters, daji “Good Fortune” incised on the center of the headrest flanked by leafy upright peony stems, all on a carefully executed ring-punch ground. The front and the back of the pillow are decorated with conforming panels enclosing chrysanthemums on scrolling vines and the sides are carved with camellia blossoms. Aside from the flat base, where the body fired to a pinkish-buff color, the pillow was covered with a clear colorless glaze. A circular aperture piercing the body through the back of the pillow allowed for gasses to escape during firing.

A pillow in the British Museum similar to the present is inscribed with a date corresponding to 1072 in the Northern Song period. This superior example like the present and distinguished like the present for its superbly crafted sgraffiato characters, floral design and ring-punch ground is a guide to dating the present pillow. Related materials excavated at the important Cizhou ware kiln site at Guantai in Henan province suggest its provenance. And the ring-punch ground is evidence of the migration of metalwork techniques into the domain of ceramic art.

These Cizhou wares, considered by some to be the lesser relatives of imperial or imperially sanctioned wares, had the freedom to come into being and live by different rules, or no rules at all. This in large part accounts for the immense breadth of creativity and inventiveness, the variety and originality that we witness in these wares. From a commercial standpoint, Cizhou ceramics were made almost exclusively for the domestic market and thus escaped the derogatory implications of being an “export” ware.

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