Northern Song dynasty, Imperially incised poem dated to 1776 Exquisitely potted of delicate hexalobed floral form, the flat base rising towards a flared mounted copper rim, covered all over in a creamy ivory white glaze, the base inscribed with a thirty five character poem and two incised seal marks in a rare hexagonal layout. 15.3cm diam.
Provenance: Christie's London, 12 October 1970, lot 27 P. Delplace, November 1972 A Belgian private collection Sotheby's London, 10 November 2005, lot 268
The Imperial poem reads and translates as:
祇以光芒嫌定州 Zhi yi guangmang xian Dingzhou 邢窯陶器作珍留 Xingyao taoqi zuo zhenliu 獨緣世遠稱希見 Du yuan shi yuan cheng xi jian 髺墾仍多入市求 Kuo ken reng duo ru shi qiu 乾隆丙申春御題 Qianlong bingshen chun yuti
The brilliant white glaze of the Dingzhou is eye-blinding. The potteries of the Xing kilns are all treasured vestiges. Now that time has passed they are an uncommon sight. I searched for them in the markets but they were of poor quality. Imperial inscription in the spring of 'bingshen' year (1776) of the Qianlong period.
The two seals read 'gu xiang' (fragrance of antiquity) and 'tai po' (great gem). The poem inscribed on the current lot is a slight variant from the poem recorded in Qianlong yuzhi shiji (Collected Works of the Qianlong Emperor), section 5, scroll 23/27a, where the reference to Xingyao is replaced by 'guanyao miqi' (secret official ware).
Considered as the earliest and finest porcelain produced during its time, Ding ware was already in full production at the founding of the Song dynasty in 960 and was the first to enter the Imperial palace for official use. The Qianlong Emperor is well-known for his interest in Song wares, dedicating a vast legacy of poems (over 40,000 Imperial poems ascribed to him; 190 poems he wrote in praise of ceramics), a few of them relating to objects made during the Emperor's reign, many of which were inscribed on his favourite Song wares.
A Dingyao dish with Qianlong dated inscription in the Palace Museum, Beijing, is illustrated in Ceramics Gallery of the Palace Museum. Part I, Beijing, 2010, pp.186-187, pl.124 (fig.1). The dated poem, written two years after the poem on the current lot, clearly conveys the Qianlong Emperor's passion and appreciation for Ding wares. The inscribed poem reads and translates as follows:
古香古色雅宜人，宋定名陶器足珍 'Guxiang guse ya yixin, Song Ding ming taoqi zuzhen' 質韞珠光堪作鑒，紋鏤花鳥具傳神 'Zhiwen zhuguang kan zuojian, wenlou huaniao ju chuanshen' 擎來掌上掬明月，題向詩中證舊因 'Qinlai zhangshang ju mingyue, tixiang shizhong zheng jiuyin' 盛得朱櫻千萬顆，滿盤琥珀爲生春 'Shengde zhuying qianwan ke, manpan hupo wei shengchun' 乾隆甲午孟春御題 'Qianlong jiawu mengchun yuti'
'The elegance of the antiquities is pleasurable, Ding wares of the Song dynasty are treasures; The evidence is in its pearl-like radiance, and its legendary moulded flowers and birds decoration; When handled and raised it is comparable to the moon, dedication of a poem is a must to justify its beauty; When filled with cherries, it glows like amber. Imperial inscription in the spring of jiawu year (1774) of the Qianlong reign'.
Yu Peichin, Curator at the Department of Antiquities in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, expounds in her article Consummate Images: Emperor Qianlong's Vision of the Ideal Kiln, Orientations, Volume 42 Number 8, November-December 2011, pp.80-88, that it is recorded in Chujishi xiaoxu or 'Preface of the First Poetry Collection' in Leishantang quanji that the Qianlong Emperor proclaimed 'I have no other interests besides writing poems and articles in my leisure time... I write to praise everything'. The Qianlong Emperor was very aware that the Imperial poems were representative of his image. It is written in the records in the Neiwufu Zaobanchu gezuochengzuo huojiqingdang or 'Palace Workshop Employment Archives of the Imperial Household Department' that there had to be a direct instruction from the Qianlong Emperor before the order to carve each artefact was passed to the painting academy at 'Ruyiguan' or 'The palace of Fulfilled Wishes' and 'Maoqindian' or 'The Hall of Great Diligence'.
Most Ding wares were fired at the mouth rims to guard against warping and distortion during firing, which left the rims unglazed and later decorated with mounted metallic rims. Cai Meifen also mentions in her published article of A Discussion of Ting Ware with Unglazed Rims and Related Twelfth-Century Official Porcelain in Arts of the Sung and Yuan, New York, 1996, pp.109-131, that "the inner court did not like the 'mang k'ou' (literally 'rough mouth' or unglazed rim) of Ting ware, it was not considered good enough to merit Imperial patronage". However, thirty-seven Ding ware pieces were unearthed in the tomb of the Taizong Emperor's empress, who died around the year 1000, indicating that early Ding wares did in fact merit Imperial patronage. The unearthed pieces all had mounted metal rims at the collar, which further suggests that porcelain with metal rims were definitely not excluded by the Imperial family.
Rose Kerr explains that 'the binding of the rims was not just utilitarian, however, but was regarded as a beautiful feature that enhanced vessels'. A special crafts institute called 'Wensiyuan' with forty-two workshops , one of which was named 'Lengzuo' or 'Decoration of Edges Workshop', is where metal rims were added to decorate the edges of the wares under the close supervision of the court. It is also stated that some rims were made coarse on purpose to avoid the metal band from slipping off. During the Huizong Emperor's reign (1101-1125), lacquered utensils with banded rims were used in the court, which suggests that Ding ware was not forbidden from entering the court because it had a banded rim.
A Ruyao dish with a slightly different carved inscription to the current lot in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is illustrated in Grand View: Special Exhibition of Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty, Taipei, 2006, p.50, no.6. A similar but smaller dish without the gilded rim and inscription in the Kwan collection is illustrated in Song Ceramics from the Kwan Collection, Hong Kong, 1994, pp.78-79, no.21.; and another Geyao piece of similar size and shape is illustrated, ibid, pp.46-47, no.5.
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