The vase has rather thick walls but is elegantly formed with a gently lobed ovoid body, a high cylindrical neck rising to an undulating hexafoil rim that appears to open like a flower, and a high, slightly flared foot knife-cut with deep vertical grooves to produce fluting. The body lobes were formed by light vertical incisions rising from a horizontal groove circling the body well above the foot. The neck was luted to the body above a collar-like ridge high on the sloping shoulder of the vase. The pale grey stoneware body, with a somewhat pinkish tinge, was coated with white slip before the heavy application of glaze that is clear, colorless, and lustrous and marked with a very fine crackle, with a blush of crackle appearing pale pink in color on the neck. The glaze stops in an irregular line deep on the inside of the neck while a dollop of glaze was wiped on the deeply recessed base.
The present vase was produced at a kiln that was heavily influenced by the then-current fashion for the white ceramics of Dingzhou, gracious white wares that had won imperial favor and had achieved a peak of elegance during the Northern Song period. Potters working in regions without easy access to fine white clays used their local materials, naturally colored by metal oxides, but took steps to achieve a Ding ware “look.” They learned to mask the clay bodies with white slip before glazing with a colorless glaze. After firing, the white of the slip and the gentle sheen of the clear, colorless glaze were able together to approximate the appearance of genuine Ding ware. While not as technically refined as Ding wares, such monochromatic white Cizhou wares have a warmth and attractiveness that has made them particularly beloved in Japan where the present vessel was acquired and where fine examples still exist, for example, in the Umezawa Memorial Gallery in Tokyo (fig. 1), although today the type also graces such collections as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (fig. 2) and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (fig. 3).
John Ayers notes in his description of the Victoria and Albert piece, “Although not exceptional in its material, this vase may surely be classed among the more inventive and shapely achievements of the Sung potter. The bottle-shaped vase of T’ang times, revealing its metallic origins in obvious joints at the neck and foot, is here transformed by elongation and flaring at the mouth and base into a new unity, while the lobed sides and foliated lip create a sensation of flower-like delicacy and growth…” Whether inspired by glass or metalware from the Middle East (or Western Asia), or by Western-inspired Chinese metal vessels, it is most probable that the potters at Tang-period Xing kilns in Hebei, active when such imports were flowing in, were the first to adopt the special form in ceramics, a form that was further developed by their successors at the Song dynasty Ding kilns in Hebei (fig. 4), and then imitated by the Cizhou potters.
Aside from the lovely foliate-mouthed yingqing-glazed porcelains produced in the south, primarily at Jingdezhen, the present shape was essentially a northern one, included among the rich dark-glazed wares—monochrome, ribbed, with cut glaze or russet splashes—among the sea-green Northern Celadons and sky-blue Jun wares, among the sancai-glazed and slip-painted wares of the Cizhou kilns, among the dreamy white wares of Ding, and the Cizhou white wares as exemplified by the present vase. The vessels that appear in painted and brick-carved tomb decoration of the Dong family at Houma in Shanxi in the early 13th century indicate the popularity of the foliate mouth, lobed vase during the post-Northern Song period and supports a possible Jin period date for these vessels that are often attributed to the Northern Song period (figs. 5-7).
1. John Ayers, Far Eastern Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980, p. 165.
Fig. 1: Cizhou-type lobed vase with foliate rim, Northern Song period (or Jin dynasty), 12th century A.D., Umezawa Memorial Gallery, Tokyo, after Mayuyama, Seventy Years, Volume One, Tokyo, 1976,p. 62, no. 561.
Fig. 2: Cizhou-type lobed vase with foliate rim, Northern Song period (or Jin dynasty), 12th century A.D., Victoria and Albert Museum, Mrs.W. Sedgwick Bequest, after John Ayers, Far Eastern Ceramics in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1980, pl. 23.
Fig 3: Cizhou-type lobed vase with foliate rim, Northern Song period (or Jin dynasty), 12th century A.D., Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, after He Li, Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey, from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, New York, 1996, no. 222.
Fig. 4: Ding ware lobed vase with foliate mouth, Northern Song period, late 11th-early 12th century A.D., private collection, after Kaikodo Journal XX, “Worlds of Wonder,” Autumn, 2001, cat. no. 83, p. 253.
Fig. 5: Brick carving of a latticed door with lobed vase in relief below and a painted lobed vase next to the door jamb, Jin dynasty, 12th-13th century A.D., Houma, Shanxi province, after Pingyang jinmu zhuandiao, Beijing, 1999, pl. 77, p. 125.
Fig. 6: Detail of figure 5: tomb tile with image of painted lobed vase.
Fig. 7: Brick carving of a lobed vase depicted on a screen in the tomb of figure 5, after Pingyang jinmu zhuandiao, Beijing, 1999, pl. 49, p. 100.