This dish is a masterpiece of abstract art. Since the Northern Qi (550-577) and throughout the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties Chinese potters in many different manufactories created wares decorated with irregular splashes in contrasting glaze colours. The copper-red streaks on blue Jun wares, however, are different from the rest: they are not fortuitous drips and splashes, but colour patterns that were applied with deliberation. Rose Kerr in Song Dynasty Ceramics, London, 2004, p. 34, notes that the splashes found on Jun wares were made with the application of copper in broad brush strokes or washes over dry bluish glazes, which then merged when fired at full heat. Like an abstract painting, the success of the overall effect therefore depends on the motion of the brush that dictates the distribution across the surface, and on the relative ‘weight’ of one colour in relation to the other. This challenge has been superbly managed on the present dish.
‘Jun’ ware, the most spectacular of the major Song dynasty wares, with its type site represented by the Juntai kilns in Yuzhou, Henan province, was produced by many different manufactories in Henan, including the Ru kilns at Qingliangsi in Baofeng, probably from the end of the Northern Song period (960-1127) until at least the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The bold, irregular red streaks on Jun ware, as seen on the present piece, had an immense appeal to the literati and nobility of the time due to their simple yet flamboyant, calligraphic effect, which gives each vessel decorated in this manner its unique design.
The outstanding quality of this dish is further evidenced in the five small dot-shaped spur marks on the base. While many Jun bowls and dishes were fired on their unglazed foot rings, the present dish belongs to a small group of wares that were supported in the kiln on three or five spurs, which enabled the overall dish, including the foot ring, to be glazed, a firing method probably copied from the Ru kilns that were located nearby.
A closely related dish with the copper red applied in a similar generous curve, also with five spur marks, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, from the Eumorfopoulos collection, published in Rose Kerr, op.cit., pl. 26; a related dish with a very different ‘design’ of several detached patches of red, fired on three spurs, is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Selection of Jun Ware. The Palace Museum’s Collection and Archaeological Excavation, Beijing, 2013, pl. 21; and one with much larger splashes, from the collections of William Cleverly Alexander and Peter Harris, included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Sung Dynasty Wares. Chün and Brown Glazes, London, 1952, cat. no. 153, was sold three times in our London rooms, 6th May 1931, lot 144, 26th April 1955, lot 79, and 18th November 1998, lot 857, and once in these rooms, 21st May 1985, lot 70; see also a slightly larger dish in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, illustrated in Gugong cang ci daxi: Junyao zhi bu/A Panorama of Ceramics in the Collection of the National Palace Museum: Chün Ware, Taipei, 1999, pl. 57; other dishes with similarly dramatic patterns, with slight variations in size, were sold in our London rooms, 9th June 2004, lot 172; and 16th May 2012, lot 85, from the collections of Oscar Bjork and Klas Fahraeus.