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: Acquisition of Rare Chinese Celadon Bowl


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Institute has recently purchased a Northern celadon bowl of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.). As a definitive example of the potter’s art from the formative and greatest period of Chinese ceramics, this important acquisition fills a gap in the Chinese collections and, as an object of the highest quality, is a worthy complement to the fine group of later porcelain lent to the Institute by Alfred F. Pillsbury.The Sung potters established most of the basic and final features of this ancient craft. True, they had inherited many Shang and later bronze shapes and many T’ang technical advances. But they developed these into such original and crowning achievements that their Ming and Ch’ing descendants could only refine their highly fired and decorated porcelain. Sung influence eventually spread to all parts of the civilized world.The Sung State actually operated or supervised a large number of furnaces or kilns. Each of these produced a ware distinct to its locality, especially in decoration and glaze, for the consumption of Imperial or other cultivated and wealthy patrons. The Sung connoisseurs judged the beauty of a piece by the appropriateness with which the potter combined shape, decoration, and glaze, with emphasis on the quality of the glaze, and thus established a lasting norm. Among the Sung wares, we can distinguish a group known as the celadons by their grey body and green glaze, which came from an iron pigment. Celadons were frequently recorded by the Sung writers, widely exported by the Sung and later merchants, and imitated by all successive dynasties. The group includes Lung-ch’üan ware, of which the Institute already owns an example.Northern celadon is found in Honan Province and other parts of northern China and Korea. The furnaces which made it were near K’ai-feng Fu, which was the Sung capital until 1127. There is a related, but rarer second type of Northern celadon called Tung ware which can be distinguished from the first, if at all, by its superior quality. Both types have been recorded by the Sung writers and imitated by Ch’ing potters.The Institute’s bowl is characteristic of the great beauty of Northern celadon. Its grey porcellanous body is typical. Its pleasing conical shape is closer to other Northern wares, such as T’ing and Ying Ching, than to the traditional bronze shapes. The thinly potted bowl stands on a small circular foot with straight sides. The decoration is also closer to the other Northern wares, and handled with great skill and taste. The bowl has been decorated with carved plant forms realized in the great tradition of Sung draughtsmanship through the free use of a pointed tool. On the interior, the decoration takes the form of stylized peonies, with three blossoms seen in full face and three in profile, all connected by one thin, elegantly flowing line. The remainder of the space is appropriately filled with small leaves. The exterior of the bowl has been carved in a petal pattern resembling a radiating linen-fold. The potter has treated his carving tool as though it were an engraver’s burin and left a slight burr on his bold lines. The glaze is a luminous olive-green, which accentuates and gives final character to the well-organized decoration. The extraordinary skill with which the bowl has been made, its exquisite but strong beauty, and its perfect condition, indicate that the Institute has acquired one of the finest examples of Northern celadon in America.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Northern celadon bowl with carved floral decoration
    Chinese, Sung (960-1279 A.D.). Ethel M. Van Derlip Fund
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Source: "Acquisition of Rare Chinese Celadon Bowl," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 38, no. 1 (January, 1949): 6-8.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009