The fairly easy, yet highly effective method of decorating a black jar with parallel lines of white slip, was adopted by many northern kilns. Qualities, shapes and details of the execution vary considerably, however, and the still very limited evidence from the various kiln sites does not yet permit conclusive attribution of individual pieces to any particular kiln group; but with its pleasant rounded form, crisp white ribs and overall deep black glaze, the present jar – in line with all other pieces in this collection – is a particularly good example.
In its robust yet perfectly proportioned form and distinct ribbed decoration, this jar is an icon of black-glazed ceramics and reflects a taste for bold, graphic designs that still inspires potters today.
Wares of this type were produced at numerous kilns in Henan, Hebei and Shandong provinces. Robert D. Mowry discusses this group in detail in the catalogue to the exhibition Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers. Chinese Brown-and Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400-1400, Harvard University Art Museum, Cambridge, 1995, pp 174-177, which included two rather different examples, cat. nos 61 and 64, and proposes various distinctions between the different manufacturing centres. This would suggest that the present jar might come from Zibo in Shandong. Mowry suggests that jars from Shandong have short straight necks with straight-cut lips, that the ribs appear very white (rather than yellow) because the glaze that covers them is rather transparent, that they can begin at different points around the top, and that the jars are often fully glazed, “sometimes with a circle wiped free on the floor so a small pot could be fired inside” (p. 177). This firing technique of placing a smaller jar inside a larger vessel is evidenced in the small spur marks on the interior of the present jar, as well as an excavated jar of this type, with the smaller jar still inside, unearthed at the Zibo kilns in Shandong province, and illustrated in Wenwu, 1979, vol. 6, p. 57, pls 32 and 33. Jars of this type are also often found with the lowest part unglazed, with the biscuit exposed, or covered with only a thin light brown glaze layer.
True black glazes only emerged in the Tang dynasty (618-907), and their production quickly spread throughout China as they were highly regarded as solid, practical wares. The development of black wares during the Northern Song period (960-1127) appears to have drawn inspiration from contemporary plain lacquerware, but different kilns quickly developed their own styles. Ribs of white slip were first decoratively used during the Tang dynasty, on ceramics imitating lacquer or silver, mainly to segment the interiors of open-form vessels, and in the tenth and eleventh centuries were at first sparingly added to the exterior of vessels, before emerging as an important tool of decoration in their own right by the twelfth century.
Fragments of similar jars were included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Kiln Sites of Ancient China, London, 1980, cat. no. 419, from Baofeng in Henan, cat. no. 434, from Zibo in Shandong, and a cover with a similar ribbed design, cat. no. 413, from Lushan in Henan. Fragments from various kilns in Henan are also illustrated in Zhongguo gudai yaozhi biaoben [Specimens from ancient Chinese kiln sites], vol. 1: Henan juan. Shang [Henan volume, a], Beijing, 2005, pl. 104 from Lushan, pls 230-231 from Hebi, pls 268-269 from Baofeng; and op.cit., Henan juan. Xia [Henan volume, b], pl. 366 from Bacun. A related jar with more widely spaced ribs was also recovered from the Cizhou kiln site, see Guantai Cizhou yaozhi/The Cizhou Kiln site at Guantai, Beijing, 1997, col. pl. 25.
A jar of similar form is illustrated in Gakuji Hasebe, Tōki zenshū [Complete series on ceramics], vol. 13: Sō no Jishuyō [Cizhou ware of the Song dynasty], Tokyo, 1958, pl. 55; a smaller example, with the glaze stopping well above the foot, was included in the exhibition Haku to koku no kyōen/Charm of Black and White Ware: Transition of Cizhou Type Wares, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, 2002, cat. no. 144, from the Museum’s collection; another slightly smaller piece was included in the Kau Chi Society Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Ceramics, Art Gallery, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1981, cat. no. 42; two related jars were sold in our London rooms, the first from the Lindberg collection, 12th December 1978, lot 74, the second, 18th June 1985, lot 54; another was sold in our New York rooms, 30th March 2006, lot 46.