The profound interest in nature during the Song dynasty (960-1279) is arguably one of the most important elements that shaped the period's art and culture. The 'discovery' of the beauty of nature affected nearly all areas of life and many strata of society, finding expression in all facets of life and entering also the decorative repertoire of ceramics. Rust-brown painting on black glazes was popular with various north-Chinese kilns, but was generally limited to sketchy floral or bird designs. The elaborate style of the present piece, which is painted with a continuous peony scroll with four blooms among foliage, evenly spaced between the jar's leaf-shaped handles, is extremely rare, as is the olive shape of the vessel.
Similar peony designs are seen on the famous, densely decorated, ovoid jar (xiaokou ping) now in the Tokyo National Museum, illustrated in Margaret Medley, Yüan Porcelain & Stoneware, London, 1974, col. pl. H ; and on a jar from the collection of R. Hatfield Ellsworth, included in the exhibition Hare's Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers. Chinese Brown-and Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400-1400, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 1995, cat. no. 56, and recently sold at Christie's New York, 17th March 2015, lot 19. See also a small meiping published in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, London, 1994-2010, vol. 1, pl. 459.
The unusual slender ovoid form with short flared neck and four leaf-shaped handles, was probably designed to contain wine. It is well known among Cizhou-type wares with designs painted in black on a white ground, several of which are inscribed with the names of taverns, such as the jar from the collection of Sir Percival David and now in the British Museum, London, inscribed with the words 'Benevolence and Harmony Tavern' (Renheguan), discussed in Jessica Harrison-Hall, 'The Taste of Cizhou', Apollo Magazine, November 2011, pp. 48-44, where the author mentions two further jars of similar shape in the British Museum, and one excavated in Anhui province, and now in the Huaibei Museum; or another Cizhou jar with the same inscription, illustrated in Zhongguo gudai yaozhi biaoben [Specimens from ancient Chinese kiln sites], vol. 2: Hebei juan [Hebei volume], Beijing, 2006, pl. 095, together with a flower-decorated jar of this shape, p. 137.