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13th century Southern Song Dynasty Qingbai Bowl

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Chinese: Porcelain: Pre 1492: Item # 1145118
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SOLD with thanks to Paris, France

Qingbai Bowl with Molded Double Fish Design
13th century
Southern Song Dynasty
Porcelain with translucent blue-whitish glaze, Jingdezhen ware
D: 16.6 cm H: 4 cm
Perfect condition; rust spots and minor crazing commensurate with age
From a Cleveland, Ohio private collection

This particular Qingbai bowl was made late in the Song dynasty, 13th century. Its unglazed rim with some kiln grit still stuck suggest that it was fired upside down—a typical practice for Qingbai production during the Southern Song dynasty. Jingdezhen potters, in the creation of this bowl, would have formed its shape and decoration with the help of a pre-made mold and slip, left it to dry, before trimming and glazing it for the kiln. This bowl is one of the finer examples of its type I've had the opportunity to handle: its glaze is dewy and smooth, with an excellent color, and the molded double fish swimming amongst waves has a very nice clarity.
Song Qingbai wares, in my opinion, are must-haves for any serious collector of Chinese ceramics. It isn't an exaggeration to say that these pieces form the very foundation of Western understanding of Chinese ceramic arts. For instance, consider the word “porcelain” and its etymology. The earliest use of this word in its modern meaning can be traced to the oldest manuscript of Marco Polo's accounts of China, dated 1298 and written in Italianate French. In this narrative, Marco Polo describes wares he then called “porcellana”: “Bowls … the color of azure, and very shining and beautiful beyond measure.” This descriptions seems to be a faithful description of Qingbai wares—a conclusion reinforced by the fact that “porcellana”, during Marco Polo's time, was used by Spanish sailors to describe cowry shells, to which surface Qingbai glaze bears many similarities. The beauty and mystique of Qingbai porcelain, the first Chinese wares to reach Europe, was so stunning that Medieval period admirers speculated that it was composed of ground up shells.
Qingbai wares are additionally important as one of the earliest groups of true Chinese porcelain. Made at Jingdezhen, it is mainly composed of gaolin clay and petuntse, ingredients crucial to Jingdezhen's emergence as China's primary ceramic manufacturing center. The translucent quality of Qingbai glaze is also integral to the development of mature blue and white wares later during the 14th century Yuan dynasty, as it was essentially adopted as a clear coating for underglaze cobalt blue painting.