Ceramic pillows were first manufactured in the Tang dynasty and became popular luxurious items in the Song period. They not only provided support while sleeping but were considered as bridges between the conscious and unconscious self. They were fashioned from materials that were believed to have health properties, and their designs were carefully chosen as harbingers of happiness and good fortune. The late Ming dynasty (1368-1644) writer Gao Lian in his Cunshen bajian [Eight discourses on the art of living], published in 1591, tells the story of immortal Yao, who had ‘pure and elegant dreams’ after sleeping on a pile of rolled-up paper scrolls.
The cooling properties of ceramic made it a particularly suitable material for the manufacture of pillows. The Northern Song dynasty poet Zhang Lei in his Thanks to Master Huang for the Green Porcelain Pillow, wrote: ‘Porcelain made by the Gong people is strong and blue; an old friend gave it to me to beat the heat; it cools down the room like a breeze; keeping my head cool while I sleep; This amazing clay item keeps one’s head cool and hair cold’.
Pillows in the form of boys were given as wedding gifts and represented the wish for the continuation of the family line and the birth of male offspring. The scholar Sun Simiao (581-682) in his Beiji qianjin yaofang [Prescriptions worth a thousand, for every emergency], expresses the widespread belief that the gender of foetuses could be influenced by the expectant mother through what she saw and ate, her emotions as well as her dreams. These figurative pillows were thus believed to both aid in the onset of pregnancy and positively influence mothers’ dreams (Ann Barrott Wicks, Children in Chinese Art, Honolulu, 2002, p. 12).
Three Dingyao pillows in the form of reclining boys holding a lotus leaf are known: the first in the Avery Brundage collection, now in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is illustrated in Li He, Chinese Ceramics. The New Standard Guide, San Francisco, 1996, pl. 218; the second in the Meiyintang collection is illustrated in Regina Krahl, Chinese Ceramics from the Meiyintang Collection, vol. 3 (II), London, 2006, pl. 1428; and the third from the Musée Royaoux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, was sold in our New York rooms, 23rd September 1995, lot 398.
Pillows modelled in the form of boys holding a lotus leaf were made at various kilns in both northern and southern China; a Cizhou pillow of this form in the Museum of the Western Han Dynasty Mausoleum of the Nan Yue King, Guangzhou, is illustrated in Cizhou yaoci zhen [Cizhou ceramic pillows], Beijing, 2000, p. 270; another was sold in our New York rooms, 15th March 2017, lot 618; a Yaozhou example in the Meiyintang collection, is illustrated op.cit., pl. 1479; another from the Jaehne collection, in the Newark Museum, New Jersey, was included in the exhibition Chinese Art in the Newark Museum, China Institute of America, New York, 1980, pp. 10 and 33; and two qingbai pillows are illustrated in Rose Kerr, Song Through 21st Century Eyes, Hong Kong, 2009, pls 2-15 and 2-16.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale