This serenely shaped and decorated meiping is one of the rare examples of the early production of the Longquan kilns in Zhejiang province, in the Northern Song period (960-1127), before Longquan wares reached the height of their popularity. At this time, the kilns, located in China’s southeast, were faced with the strong competition of northern celadon kilns such as Yaozhou in Shaanxi, which had the immense advantage of being located close to the seats of power. With their pale green glazes and delicate incised designs, early Longquan wares show closer similarities to Yue wares, made further north in the same province, and at times to Yaozhou ware, than to later Longquan wares with their deeper green glazes, often free of design, and were previously often mistaken for Yue. Although the Yue kilns clearly exerted a strong influence, the Longquan kilns had in fact created a distinctive style of their own already in the Northern Song, with their delicate carved designs covering the vessel surface, enlivened by fine combing. Outstanding examples such as the present vase are, however, exceedingly rare.
The dramatic transformation of the Longquan production, in terms of material and workmanship, from the Five Dynasties period (907-960), when the kilns produced mainly funerary wares, to the Northern Song, when they turned to high-quality utilitarian ceramics, becomes apparent when comparing a related, but much more coarse vase with slightly angled shoulders, carved with a peony scroll between bands of petals, attributed to the Five Dynasties period, illustrated in Longquan qingci [Longquan celadon], Beijing, 1966, pl. 2.
The present meiping with its well-rounded shoulders and relatively wide neck is harmoniously proportioned, the complex flower scroll that covers two thirds of the body gives it a generous air, and the bluish glaze tone is particularly successful. On comparable vases the design is mostly divided into narrower bands, the proportions vary a lot, and the glazes tend to be more olive green; see, for example, a larger meiping of this type, excavated in Songyang county, Zhejiang province, and now in the Songyang County Museum, carved with an additional band of lappets around the shoulder, frequently illustrated, for example, in Zhu Boqian, Longquan yao qingci/Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Taipei, 1998, pl. 69; and in Zhongguo Longquan qingci/Longquan Celadon of China, Hangzhou, 1998, pl. 47 and on the cover; a slightly smaller, densely decorated vase from the Sir Herbert and Lady Ingram collection, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, published in Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 12, Tokyo, 1977, col. pl. 179; another from the Dexing Shuwu collection, sold in our New York rooms, 18th March 2008, lot 86; and one showing two narrow bands of scrolling flowers and a larger section of petals, sold in these rooms, 5th November 1996, lot 725; a much smaller version, decorated with one band of peony scrolls above five ranks of overlapping petals, from the Yang De Tang collection, was sold in our New York rooms, 17th March 2015, lot 64.