Details & Cataloguing

Chinese Art through the Eye of Sakamoto Gorō: Song Ceramics

New York

the well-rounded sides tapering slightly towards the base, the layers of black glaze starting just below the neatly knife-pared short unglazed rim, the iron-rich slip pulling downwards creating patches of dense russet stippling against the brownish-black ground, the exterior dynamically painted with four bold, gestural russet swirls stopping about two thirds down, the layers of glaze with long trailing drips towards the rough unglazed buff-colored foot, Japanese double wood boxes
Height 8 1/8  in., 20.5 cm
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Mosaku Sorimachi Collection, Japan. 


Chinese Arts of the Sung and Yuan Periods, Tokyo National Museum, 1961, cat. no. 264.


Fujio Koyama, Toki Zuroku Shina-hen [A pictorial Catalogue of Pottery, China], vol. 7, Part 1, Tokyo, 1938, p. 98, no. 129.
Gakuji Hasebe, Seizo Hayashiya, Chugoku kotoji jyou [Ancient Chinese Ceramics]Tokyo, 1971, no. 164.
Gakuji Hasebe, Sekai Toji Zenshu [Ceramic Art of the World], vol. 12, Tokyo, 1977, cat. no. 248.

Catalogue Note

Compared to the other famous wares of the Song dynasty, black-glazed ware represents a more adventurous and varied early ceramic production.  The ceramic historian Nigel Wood in Chinese Glazes, London, 1999, p. 137, describes the iron-rich glazes of black wares as seeming ‘to evoke the very earths of China’ as their main raw materials were often sourced from the clays, river-muds and silts of both north and south China. From the Tang dynasty black-glazed stonewares began to make significant contributions to Chinese ceramics, with the best Tang wares being produced at the kilns in the Yellow River area of northern China. Minimalist forms that were often inspired by nature, covered with monochrome glazes, soon led to painted and splashed designs which were achieved by exploiting lighter overglazes on the dark ground or firing temperatures. Black wares were revived in the Song dynasty, sometimes decorated with contrasting patterns, for example with raised ribs of white slip or clay, or with russet-brown sparsely painted motifs of birds or flower sprays. The potters skilfully manipulated their materials to capture a likeness of other materials, such as oil-spot, 'hare's-fur', and partridge-feather markings.

The type of ovoid wide-mouthed jar is one of the long lasting forms, going back to the Neolithic Culture of China in the 4th -3rd millennium B.C., and continued through the Bronze Age, the Han and Tang dynasties, whose pottery employs both naturalistic and geometric decoration. The present jar, with its well-rounded ovoid body covered in an even black glaze and four russet painted swirls, is a superb example of the spontaneity characteristic of black wares. While the majority of Song black wares choose naturalistic motifs such as birds and plants, this example takes a bold and highly abstract 'vortex' motif, drawing on past traditions and contemporary aesthetics resulting in a highly vibrant piece. This iconic piece has appeared in numerous exhibitions and publications including the 1961 Tokyo National Museum Exhibition 'Chinese Art of the Sung and Yuan Periods', no. 264; and the seminal publications Ceramic Art of the World - Sung Dynasty, vol. 12, Tokyo, 1977, p. 244, no. 248. There is a very similar example and another related example illustrated in Mayuyama Seventy Years, Volume 1, pp. 195-196, no. 582 and 585.

Black-glazed wares were produced in different places in northern China, including Hebei, Henan, Shanxi and Shandong, though this present example was likely manufactured in Henan.  In Japan it is sometimes called 'Henan temmoku'.  The term temmoku (Chinese tianmu, 'Heaven's Eye') is derived from the belief that Japanese monks first brought Chinese black-glazed tea wares to Japan from Buddhist monasteries on the Tianmu Mountain, in Zhejiang province.  Although this black-glazed Vortex Jar is a product of Northern China, the term 'Heaven's Eye' seems particularly suitable to its design and its wondrous beauty and mysterious quality makes an association with a sacred mountain of southern China most fitting.

Chinese Art through the Eye of Sakamoto Gorō: Song Ceramics

New York