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Details & Cataloguing

Chinese Art through the Eye of Sakamoto Gorō: Song Ceramics

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AN EXTREMELY RARE 'QINGBAI' CARVED 'BOYS' MEIPING
SOUTHERN SONG DYNASTY
the ovoid body rising from a short spreading foot to a broad round shoulder and short narrow waisted neck with carinated mouth, boldly incised around the exterior with a luxuriant floral meander of lily and lotus blooms all borne on scrolling stems, disrupted on either side with a pair of freely incised figures of boisterous young boys, all within double-line bands, covered overall in a rich ice-blue glaze pooling to darker tones within the carved recesses and falling short of the unglazed foot revealing the off-white colored biscuit, Japanese double wood boxes
Height  11 1/4  in., 28.6 cm
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Exhibited

Tokyo National Museum, Chinese Arts of the Sung and Yuan Periods, Tokyo, 1961, cat. no. 241.

Literature

Seizo Hayashiya, Chugoku no Touji, Tokyo, 1955, cat. no. 3.
Fujio Koyama, Chinese Ceramics: One hundred selected masterpieces from collections in Japan, England, France and America. Tokyo, 1960, p. 63.
Gakuji Hasebe, Ceramic Art of the World - Volume 12 - Sung Dynasty. Tokyo, 1977, cat. no. 166.

Catalogue Note

Outstanding for the deftly carved design of large figures of boys playing amongst scrolling vines, it is rare to find qingbai vases decorated with this scene which more commonly adorned smaller surfaces such as bowls and dishes. The combed lines of the background add structure and variation to the design, allowing the figures to stand out as if in relief.

The present vase distinguishes itself with its robust and confidently carved decoration. Qingbai wares ranged from thin and delicate to more stoutly potted forms such as the present example. Produced at a number of kilns in the provinces of Jiangxi, Fujian and Anhui, qingbai ware, also known as yingqing, refers not to the locales where the kilns were located but to their appearance. Qing (green) and bai (white) denote the alluring pale blue-green tones of the brilliant translucent glaze which so effectively complimented the white porcelaneous body beneath. The Southern Song ceramic historian Jiang Qi notes in his treatise Tao ji (Ceramic Records) that white porcelain produced in Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province was so refined and pure that it was known as raoyu (Jade of Rao), the region in which the Jingdezhen kilns were located. With some kiln modification, it is probable that these wares served as the foundation for the blue-and-white porcelain tradition of China from the 14th century onward. Although the early potters at Jingdezhen may have modeled their earliest qingbai pieces on Yue ware, by the Five Dynasties and Northern Song periods they often looked to Ding ware for aesthetic inspiration. This inspiration is perhaps evident on the present vase with its swift, confident lines of carving.

A similar meiping carved with large boys among lotus scrolls on a combed ground, probably excavated from the ruins of the Hosshō-ji, Kyoto, and now in the Kyoto National Museum, is illustrated in Hasebe Gakuji, ed., Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 12: Sō/Sung Dynasty, Tokyo, 1977, col. pl. 270, and in Hasebe Gakuji and Imai Atsushi, Chūgoku no tōji/Chinese Ceramics, vol.12: Nihon shutsudo no Chūgoku tōji/Chinese Ceramics Excavated in Japan, Tokyo, 1995, col. pl. 57. Compare also a vase of this type, but carved with boys amongst a denser scrolling vines, from the Hamamatsu Municipal Museum of Art, Hamamatsu, included in the exhibition Song Ceramics, Tobu Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1999, cat. no. 50; and another with cover, decorated with smaller figures of boys, in the Art Institute of Chicago, illustrated in Chinese Ceramics in the West, Tokyo, 1960, pl. 54, and again in Splendour of Chinese Art. Selections from the Collections of T.T. Tsui Galleries of Chinese Art Worldwide, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 100. See also a baluster vase with a flared foliate mouth, also carved with boys playing among scrolling peonies and camellias, all against a similar combed ground, in the Meiyintang collection, illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 1, London, 1994, pl. 608.  A closely related vase, of slightly larger size, was offered at Christie’s New York, 22nd March 1999, lot 258. 

Designs depicting two or three small boys climbing stems of flowers were popular on a variety of objects and media including silver, bronze, textile, jade and various types of ceramics from the late Tang dynasty onwards. Jan Wirgin, in Sung Ceramic Designs, Goteborg, 1970, pp 179-184, discusses the origin of the design, suggesting it is an amalgamation and reinterpretation of Indian cave paintings of boys and the Buddhist motif of children representing reborn souls seated on lotus flowers from the Tang dynasty. Wirgin states that the main cause for the marked popularity of boys and flowers as a decorative motif was undoubtedly being its symbolic significance, which refers to the hope for numerous sons and abundance (p. 181).

For qingbai bowls carved with boys amongst scrolling vines, see one from the Kai-Yin Lo collection, included in the exhibition Bright as Silver, White as Snow, Denver Art Museum, Denver, 1998, cat. no. 39; and another published in Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 12, Tokyo, 1977, pls 162 and 163. Compare also qingbai meiping vases carved in a similar style with scrolling leaves and flowers against a combed background, for example in the Art Institute of Chicago, illustrated ibid., pl. 167; and in the Sichuan Provincial Museum, included in Zhongguo taoci quanji [The complete works of Chinese ceramics], vol. 8, Shanghai, 1999, pl. 179.

 

Chinese Art through the Eye of Sakamoto Gorō: Song Ceramics

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New York