A fine and rare Cizhou green glazed painted vase, meiping
Northern Song/Jin dynasty Thickly potted with a flat rim projecting outward from a cylindrical neck and a body of inverted pear form, the exterior walls painted in black on a white slip ground with bands of overlapping chrysanthemum petals separated by sprays of blossoming peony and a single butterfly, with details incised in the sgraffito technique beneath a layer of green lead glaze applied over a colorless glaze that stops unevenly along the base line, leaving the finely prepared buff clay fabric exposed across the wide foot and shallowly recessed base. 14 1/8in (35.9cm) high
Cizhou ceramics colored with leaf green lead glaze are a very rare occurrence in Chinese ceramics collections. As a result of Chinese archeological excavations, the Guantai kiln site in Cixian, Hebei was identified as the source for notable examples such as this meiping. The most extensive excavation of the site in 1987 was published by the Department of Archeology, Peking University and others agencies in Guantai Cizhou yao zhi, Beijing, Wen wu chu ban she, 1997. See, for example color plate XI,1, the two wide-mouth vases reconstructed from shards in the kiln site: both display similar calligraphic strokes to the leaves and incised details to the peony flowers drawn in black slip on a white ground as seen on the meiping in this lot and one of the two is also covered with the same green glaze that appears on this lot. Researchers have suggested a late 12th century date for the wide-mouth vase, due to the similarity of its peony flower decoration to a figural pillow inscribed in ink with the date Daguan shiliu nian (1176), excavated in Shaanxi province in 1986 (see Guantai, pp. 481-2).
The two jars from the Guantai kiln site have also been published in Complete Collection of Ceramic Art Unearthed in China, Beijing, 2007, vol. 3. Hebei, #177, as Jin dynasty, 25.6cm. In his overview of Hebei ceramics included in this volume, Cao Kai mentions that the finest clay bodies were produced at the Guantai kilns during the middle and late phases of Northern Song through the Jin period (pp. II-III and VII-VIII). This seems consistent with the physical appearance of the clay in the meiping for this lot: the fabric is smooth to the touch, compact and fine grained, displaying a very uniform pale buff hue across the base.
Shards published in the 1997 Guantai excavation report also indicate that the green glazed meiping in the British Museum may be a Guantai product: see Oriental Ceramics: the World's Great Collections, Volume 5, The British Museum, Hong Kong, 1981, color plate 23 and discussed p. 158 (as Northern Song, 39.5cm high); and Guantai, color plate III,2. Another notable example with sgraffito decoration is preserved in the Idemitsu Collection and published in the exhibition Chugoku Jishuyo: nagomi to ajiwai, Tokyo, 2005, cat. no. 5, p.16 (as Jin, 12th/13th century, 22cm high). A third Cizhou meiping, this time with peony sprays painted in black slip beneath a green glaze, was sold in Sotheby's New York Sale 8524, 17 March 2009, lot 36 (as Northern Song/Jin, Guantai kilns, Hebei, 29.8cm high).
Also now identified as Guantai products are a series of green glazed baluster vases with trumpet necks published by Mino Yutaka in Freedom of Clay and Brush though seen Centuries in Northern China: Tz'u-chou Type Wares, 960-1600 A.D., Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1980: these include the primary example from the Fogg Art Museum, illustrated as plate 95, a second vase from a private Japanese collection, illustrated as figure 277 and a third in the Burrell Collection at the Camphill Museum Glasgow, illustrated as figure 278, pp. 214-215. All three examples display incised lines accenting the distinctive spiky leaf silhouettes and - common to the Bonhams meiping, the Japanese and the Burrell Collection vases - group of incised parallel lines that provide texture to the peony petals. Mino Yutaka isolated the group to the Jin period, 12th century. A similar green glazed baluster vase with trumpet neck was sold in Christie's, New York Sale 2238, 17 September 2008, 25cm high, as Song/Jin dynasty, 12th century from the Guantai kilns in Hebei.
The solitary butterfly drawn on the shoulder of this lot provides another link to the Guantai kilns. Mino Yutaka drew attention to the butterflies drawn on fragment excavated at the Guantai kiln site in 1964 and on a group of truncated meiping vases in various collections with peony sprays similarly rendered in black slip and line-incised details to the green-glazed meiping and baluster vases discussed above (see Freedom of Clay and Brush, pp. 198-99 and especially figure 247). He suggested a Jin period of manufacture for the group. A similar truncated meiping with butterfly and insect decoration was excavated in 2001 at Cui'er zhuang, Cangzhou city, Hebei and identified as Guantai Cizhou (see Complete Collection of Ceramic Art, vol. 3 Hebei, cat. no. 126). Another truncated meiping with painted and incised floral decoration, but lacking insect decoration was sold in Christie's Hong Kong Sale 2832, 1 December 2010, lot 3099, as Northern Song/Jin Dynasty, 12th-13th century.
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