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Feng-hua mallet vase with bluish-blue glaze, Ru ware, Late 11th- early 12th century, Northern Song dynasty

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Feng-hua mallet vase with bluish-blue glaze, Ru ware
Late 11th- early 12th century, Northern Song dynasty
H. 22.4 cm;Diam. of rim 4.4 cm;Diam. of base 8.6 cm
National Treasure


This vessel has a round, slightly flared mouth encircled by a brass band, a long, thin neck, slanting shoulders, a large cylindrical belly, and a flat bottom with no foot. The ceramic body is somewhat thin, and was completely coated in glaze and then fired on spurs. This vase is sky blue in color, and in places where the glaze is thin, an underlying pink sheen slightly shows through, while crackles appear where the glaze is thickly piled. On the underside of the vessel, five spur marks can be seen, and an imperial poem written by the Qianlong Emperor, "Ode to the Ru Kiln Vase," has been inscribed. The poem states, "The white ware of Dingzhou was said to have a strong glare, and thus this Ruzhou ware with a soft green hue was ordered to be made by imperial edict. A brass band was used to strengthen the mouth, and the well-preserved but aged bottom bears the marks of iron spurs. Writing brings quiet and peace, and the nose seems to scent the sweet smell of flowers, even if none are placed in the vase. In ages past, when Feng Hua accompanied the Deshou Emperor (Emperor Gaozong of Song), did the Emperor's thoughts ever dwell upon the Wuguo City (where the Emperor's two predecessors were imprisoned)?" At the end of the poem, an inscription reads, "Written by the Emperor in midsummer of the 43rd year of the Qianlong reign (1778 CE)," and is accompanied by two seals respectively stating, "Gu Xiang (vintage)" and "Tai Pu (natural)." Regarding the meaning of the two characters, "Feng Hua," in the annotation to his poem, the Qianlong Emperor states, "The Neifu (Imperial Household Department) has a plate from the Ru Kiln, on the bottom of which is inscribed the two characters, "Feng Hua." Historical records show that "Feng Hua" was the art name of Imperial Concubine Liu in the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Southern Song dynasty. The Concubine was skilled at painting, and she always used the Feng Hua seal on her works. The color of the glaze on this vase and its method of manufacture are identical to that of the plate, and it is similarly inscribed with the two characters, Feng Hua." From this, it can be understood that according to historical records, "Feng Hua" referred to Imperial Concubine Liu of the Southern Song dynasty, and works with the Feng Hua inscription were very likely to have originated from the Southern Song imperial court. As for the Feng Hua inscription on this vase, from the statement in the annotation that "it is similarly inscribed with the two characters, Feng Hua," some scholars have said that the inscription may have been made during the Qianlong reign. After comparing this vessel with similar wares excavated from the Qingliang Temple Kiln site in Baofeng County of Henan Province, and from the fact that the mouth rim of this vase shows signs of having been sanded smooth, it has been inferred that this vase may originally have had a plate mouth. In addition, from Islamic glassware excavated from the Tomb of the Liaochen Princess in Inner Mongolia and the pavilion foundations of the Dule Temple in Tianjin, it is possible to trace the form and design origins of mallet vases, as well as the process by which they were transformed into one of the classic forms of Chinese ceramics. After the Northern Song dynasty, the design of the bottom part of mallet vases gradually began to change, and although some retained the original flat designs, examples from the Southern Song official kilns and the Zhanggongxiang Kiln were found to have a ring foot. In contrast to this, the flat-bottomed forms of Goryeo celadon ware from Korea, as well as the use of silica mats to support the firing of fully glaze-coated wares supported on spurs, all attest to the deep influence of the Ru Kiln on Goryeo celadon ware.  


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