Important Chinese Art

Important Chinese Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 226. An extremely rare 'Guan' hexafoil tripod censer, Hangzhou kilns, Southern Song dynasty | 南宋 官窰三足爐.

Property of a West Coast Private Collector

An extremely rare 'Guan' hexafoil tripod censer, Hangzhou kilns, Southern Song dynasty | 南宋 官窰三足爐

Auction Closed

September 21, 06:54 PM GMT


50,000 - 70,000 USD

Lot Details


An extremely rare 'Guan' hexafoil tripod censer

Hangzhou kilns, Southern Song dynasty 

南宋 官窰三足爐

Width 4⅜ in., 11 cm

The Mount Trust Collection. 

Christie's London, 19th April 1983, lot 35. 

China House of Arts, New York.

Mount Trust 收藏


China House of Arts, 紐約

Guan yao, the fabled ‘official ware’ specially created for the imperial court of the Southern Song (1127-1279) in Hangzhou in south China, is amongst the most desirable and certainly one of the rarest types of Chinese ceramics. Its elegant, unassuming simplicity belies its technical sophistication, and showcases Chinese potters at the height of their ingenuity, technical capabilities and aesthetic vision.

When the Southern Song court looked to commission a new official ware, the forms of archaic ritual bronzes or jades provided the most important inspiration. During this time, archaic bronzes and jades had begun to be excavated, researched and collected as symbols and witnesses of a blessed era of Chinese history, due to their central function in important state rituals in antiquity.

The present incense burner is not directly copied, but clearly based on an archaic bronze li vessel. The exquisite, unctuous glaze of the present vase with its smooth pleasing texture, milky-blue tint and subtle gloss was achieved through gradual application of multiple layers and presumably successive firings. The dark blackish-brown body visible on the feet adds depth to the glaze and gravitas to the whole object, as it subtly accentuates the shape. 

Guan ware is mentioned and lauded already in contemporary texts of the Southern Song period. According to those texts, Xiuneisi, the Palace Maintenance Office, set up a kiln in the new capital, present day Hangzhou, to produce wares modeled on the official ware of the Northern Song. Somewhat later, another kiln at Hangzhou produced a similar but lesser ware. The basic message of these reports appears to be supported by archaeological research, since two different kiln sites have been explored at Hangzhou, one at Wuguishan, south of the former imperial city, the other at Laohudong on the site formerly occupied by the imperial city. Because of their locations and the different qualities of the sherds recovered, the Wuguishan kiln has been interpreted as the (lesser) Jiaotanxia kiln; the Laohudong kiln as the exalted Xiuneisi manufactory. It is difficult, however, to link the best examples of guan ware to either kiln site.

The form of the current incense burner is extremely rare, but two closely related examples are published: one from the Heeramaneck Collection, illustrated in Warren Cox, The Book of Pottery and Porcelain, vol. I, New York, 1970, fig. 292, and another from the collection of Richard Bryant Hobart, sold at Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 12th December 1969, lot 201, and included in the exhibition Ju and Kuan Wares. Imperial Wares of the Sung Dynasty, Related Wares and Derivatives of Later Date, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1952, cat. no. 52. A guan tripod incense burner also modeled after an archaic bronze li vessel, but of more rounded ovoid form, formerly in the collections of Enid and Brodie Lodge and J.T. Tai, was sold in these rooms, 22nd March 2011, lot 183, and more recently at Christie's Hong Kong, 29th May 2018, lot 2902.