The stoneware ceramic vessel is a deep rounded basin with two square upright handles projecting from the rim on opposite sides, the vessel supported on three legs and covered with a dome-shaped lid. Each leg bulges slightly at the top where it is attached to the vessel, splaying outward in cabriole fashion, and terminating in a turned-out hoof-form foot. Three horizontal rows of stamped “S” form curls decorate the sides beneath a rope-twist band in relief. Further smaller curls are interrupted by the two handles, each handle with lightly impressed décor. The cover is slightly domed and is set with three thick, sharply-cut, upright ring handles. Matching the decor of the body of the vessel, “S” form curls are stamped in three concentric rings on the lid alternating with rope-twist bands, all encircling a central medallion of pinwheel design produced when the lid was on the turning wheel. The glaze forms an irregular surface coating on the vessel’s body ranging from thick globules to thin patches and the color ranging from deep olive green where the glaze is thick to pale yellowish and buff green where the glaze is thin. The glaze on the exterior of the lid is more evenly applied in a thin coat while the glaze exhibits a slight sheen throughout. Unglazed patches on the rounded base of the vessel burned a dark brown in the firing while the exposed body of the partially glazed interiors of vessel and lid burned a buff color in firing.
This finely potted and delicately decorated ceramic tripod, and such similar vessels as one in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (fig. 1), were made in imitation of bronze food containers, tripod vessels known as ding (figs. 2-3). The bulges surmounting the three curved legs reproduce the effect of the decorative masks surmounting the legs of some of the bronze counterparts (fig. 3). Not only do the lug handles on the body and circular or loop handles on the lid also follow the bronze models, but the decor itself is intended to reproduce the appearance of the dense surface patterns of the bronzes (fig. 4). However, in producing the ceramic versions, the potters almost exclusively used the “S” form or related comma and curl designs to build patterns and unify compositions. The rope-twist band that appears on bronzes is reduced on the ceramic vessels to oblique grooves that nevertheless capture the effect of the original bronze if not reproducing the design in a precise manner.
It ought to be unusual for a relatively humble ceramic imitation of a more costly and difficult to produce bronze vessel to equal or surpass that model in elegance, stateliness and grace. Yet, we feel that such is the case in this exquisite ceramic replica. Perhaps it is the refreshing lightness of the buff-colored body and its delicate semi-glossy skin that attract us, or perhaps the precision, cleanliness, and sharpness in potting and subtle intricacy of decor.
A number of bronze vessel types in vogue during the late Zhou period in addition to the ding that inspired the present example were reproduced in exquisite stoneware versions, for example, a stoneware he in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (fig. 5). These distinctive ceramic vessels have been discovered in tombs in Anhui, Henan, Jiangxi, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, with Shaoxing in the Yue region of Zhejiang among the richest in remains. Their distinctive styles looked to the immortal past by way of their bronze shapes and the character of their stamped decor while at the same time pointing to a future that was fast unfolding, particularly in the environs around Shaoxing, their wares collectively known as Yueyao and their staggering accomplishments on the shoulders of the stoneware ding here immortalizing
that region in Chinese ceramic history.
Fig. 1: Stoneware ding tripod, Eastern Zhou dynasty, Warring States period, 5th-3rd century B.C., Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, after Mary Tregear, Catalogue of Chinese Greenware in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1976, no. 1, p. 16.
Fig. 2: Bronze ding tripod, Eastern Zhou dynasty, Spring & Autumn period, 6th-5th century B.C., after Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji (vol. 8: Dongzhou, 2), Beijing, 1995, pl. 11, p. 10.
Fig. 3: Bronze ding tripod, Eastern Zhou dynasty, Spring & Autumn period, 6th-5th century B.C., after Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji (vol. 8: Dongzhou, 2), Beijing, 1995, pl. 22, p. 21.
Fig. 4: Detail of lid of bronze in figure 2, after Zhongguo qingtongqi quanji (vol. 8: Dongzhou, 2), Beijing, 1995, pl. 12, p. 11.
Fig. 5: Stoneware spouted tripod he, Eastern Zhou dynasty, Warring States period, 5th-3rd century B.C., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, after Yutaka Mino and Katherine R. Tsiang, Ice and Green Clouds: Traditions of Chinese Celadon, Indianapolis, 1986, no. 4.