Chinese / Brush Washer / Northern Song period, early 12th centuryChinese
Brush Washer
Northern Song period, early 12th century

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Name-CRT: Chinese
Title: Brush Washer
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1100
Creation End Date: 1133
Creation Date: Northern Song period, early 12th century
Creation Place: China, Henan Province
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Ceramics
Materials and Techniques: Stoneware with glaze (Jun ware)
Dimensions: H. 2 3/4 in. (5.7 cm); D. 6 3/4 in. (17.1 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.138
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Context: Ceramics made in China during the Song period (960-1279) are among the most influential and revered in the world: they are noted for their elegant, simple shapes, lush glazes, and lively designs. These ceramics are admired in part because of the complicated and varied technologies used in their manufacture. Since the late 12th and early 13th centuries, five of the wares produced during this period--Ding, Ru, Jun, Guan, and Ge--have been designated the "five great wares" of China.

This small brush washer with a ring handle exemplifies the court taste that developed in the early 12th century under the patronage of the Song emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125). Huizong is one of the most famous imperial patrons in Chinese history, and the changes that occurred in artistic taste under his patronage had a longlasting effect on Chinese art. These changes include a shift away from the monochromatic landscapes favored by his predecessors to more colorful paintings, and an emphasis on evoking the intangible in painting and poetry. Huizong was noted for his fascination with the bronzes and jades made during the Shang and Zhou periods (c. 1700-221 BCE), and for the development of new types of court ceramics such as Ru and Guan wares. Unlike the Ding wares previously favored by the court, these later wares are rarely decorated with incised or impressed motifs, but rely instead on the beauty of their elegant shapes and fabulous glazes.

The kiln responsible for the production of Ru wares was discovered in 1986 in Qingliangsi, Baofeng County, Henan Province. Ru appears to have been produced from about 1080 to the first years of the 12th century. An official ware called Guan may have been produced in the second decade of the 12th century, after the production of Ru ware had ceased. Although this brush washer is an example of Jun ware, its subtle, bold shape and understated elegance, enhanced by the unctuousness of the very thick pale blue-gray glaze, are closer to imperial Ru than typical Jun ware. The fine lines in the glaze, known as "crazing" or "crackle," are the result of the shrinking of the glaze in the kiln. Crazing also characterizes Ru and Guan wares, further strengthening the parallels between imperial ceramics and Jun wares such as this brush washer. (Interest in crazing has been linked to Huizong's fascination with early Chinese bronzes, as the effect of crazing is similar to that of the patination acquired by early metalwork.)

Jun wares are named for Jun Prefecture in Henan Province; however, recent archaeological discoveries have shown that these wares were produced in the area around Linru in the same province. Of the eight kilns near Linru identified for the production of Jun wares, the Wugongshan kiln is believed to have produced the highest quality wares, and it is possible that this brush washer--given its parallels to imperial Ru ware--is a product of that kiln. Excavations at the Wugongshan kiln site have uncovered coins dating to the Xuanhe period of Huizong's reign (1119-1125); in addition, the number of shards found at this site indicate that imperfect pieces were discarded. Together these suggest that some Jun pieces from this particular kiln were intended for the use of the court, but this remains an issue of debate.

Although Jun is one of the five great wares of China, Western scholars have generally disagreed with their Chinese counterparts, who believe that it was an imperial ware. Both the thick bodies of Jun ware, when compared with wares such as Ding and Ru, and the spectacular purple splashes that often decorate it are cited as reasons for Jun being a popular ware.

Related Document Description: The Arts of the Sung Dynasty. London: Oriental Ceramic Society, 1960, p. 53, pl. 23.
Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 64.
Related Document Description: The Ceramic Art of China. London: Oriental Ceramic Society, 1971, pp. 79, pl. 53.
Related Document Description: Chinese Art Exhibition. New Zealand, 1936, cat. no. 229.
Related Document Description: Gray, Basil. Sung Porcelain and Stoneware. London and Boston: Faber & Faber, 1984, p. 86.
Related Document Description: Hobson, R. L. Chinese Pottery and Porcelain: An Account of the Potter's Art in China from Primitive Times to the Present Day. New York: Cassell and Company, 1915, vol. 1, pl. 15, fig. 2.
Related Document Description: Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd--Part II. New York: Asia Society, 1975, pp. 43, 96.
Related Document Description: Sotheby and Co. Chinese Ceramics from the Collection of Mrs. Blanco White (auction, London, October 29, 1957), lot 144.
Related Document Description: Sung Dynasty Wares: Ch√ľn and Brown Glazes. London: Oriental Ceramic Society, 1952, cat. no. 79.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.138
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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