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AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT AND RARE 'GUANYAO' HU-SHAPED VASE\nSOUTHERN SONG DYNASTY, 12TH CENTURY, Modelled after an archaic bronze hu with well-rounded pear-shaped body of oval section, raised on a high, splayed oval foot, tapering towards a rectangular neck with everted lip, flanked by two tubular lugs, applied over three raised ribs, with another rib around the widest part, the dark brown body thickly applied overall with a luscious glaze of a misty bluish sea-green, suffused overall with a luminous crackle evoking an effect like superimposed flakes of translucent ice, the neck and lugs accentuated by darker edges where the body shines through and the footring revealing the fine-grained dark stoneware in Japanese padded purple silk cloth, ribbon-tied paulownia-wood box and cover, ribbon-tied varnished-wood outer box and cover, and brown cotton furoshiki with inscribed wooden tag\n26cm., 10 1/4 in.


The National Palace Museum, Taiwan, preserves four comparable vases of bronze form, one in form of a bronze zun with regular crackle, and three in form of bronze hu like the present piece, but each of different proportions, see Song Guan yao tezhan/Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Sung Dynasty Kuan Ware, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1989, cat. nos 2 and 8-10. One of these hu is of massive size, with outsized tubular lugs; the other two are closer to the present vase: one also showing ice crackle is engraved with a Qianlong inscription on the base (fig. 1), the other has regular crackle (fig. 2). A fifth 'guan' vase in Taipei, in form of a much smaller jade cong, was included in the exhibition Qianxi nian Songdai wenwu dazhan/China at the Inception of the Second Millennium: Art and Culture of the Sung Dynasty, 960-1279, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2000, cat. no. I-31.

The Palace Museum, Beijing, holds three 'guan' vases, see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain of the Song Dynasty, Beijing, 1996, vol. 2,  pls 1-3: one magnificent larger pear-shaped one with horizontal ribs, with regular crackle; one plain pear-shaped one, also of larger size, with superb ice crackle; and one smaller vase of hu shape, but with an opaque milky glaze and probably of somewhat later date.

Other outstanding guan vases, but neither in the shape of archaic bronzes, nor with ice crackle, include a mallet-shaped piece in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., published in Oriental Ceramics. The World's Great Collections, vol.9, Tokyo, 1981, I; and the 'Jade Stream Garden Vase' (yu jin yuan guan ping), sold in these rooms, 11th April 2008, lot 2601.

For the origin of this shape compare a bronze hu of the Shang period, of similar form but with bands of decoration between the lugs and around the foot, in Robert W. Bagley, Shang Ritual Bronzes in the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, Washington, D.C., 1987, pl. 59, and a plain round hu with three rings, but without lugs, ibid., fig. 60.1; and a burnished black pottery hu and cover also of the Shang period, excavated at Anyang and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, illustrated in Okazaki Takashi, Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 10, Tokyo, 1982, pl. 44.

Fig. 1

'Guan' ware vase with 'ice crackle' in form of a hu, engraved on the base with a poem by the Qianlong Emperor, height 26.7 cm

Southern Song dynasty

National Palace Museum, Taipei

Fig. 2

'Guan' ware vase in form of a hu, height 24.1 cm

Southern Song dynasty

National Palace Museum, Taipei




Ju and Kuan Wares, Oriental Ceramic Society, London, 1952, cat. no. 34.


26cm., 10 1/4 in.


G. St. G. M. Gompertz, Chinese Celadon Wares, London, 1958, pl. 53; rev. ed. 1980, pl. 60.

Kōyama Fujiō, Tōki Kōza [Lectures on ceramics], vol. 6: Chūgoku II. Sō [China II. Song], Tokyo, 1971, pl. 128.

Ryūsen Shūhō/Mayuyama, Seventy Years, Tokyo, 1976, vol. I, pl. 466.

Hasebe Gakuji, Sekai tōji zenshū/Ceramic Art of the World, vol. 12: Sō/Sung Dynasty, Tokyo, 1977, pl. 71.

Kōyama Fujiō, Tōji taikei [Outlines of ceramics], vol. 36: Seiji [Celadon], Tokyo, 1978, pl. 16.

Sō Gen no bijutsu [The art of Song and Yuan], Tokyo, 1980, pl. 8.

Chūgoku tōji no hassennen [8,000 years of Chinese ceramics], Tokyo, 1992, pl. 23.

Imai Atsushi, Chūgoku no tōji [Chinese ceramics] vol. 4: Seiji [Celadon], Tokyo, 1997, pl. 56.

Hanaire. Chadōgu no sekai [Flower vases. The world of tea utensils], Tokyo, 2000, p. 34.

Regina Krahl, 'Famous Brands and Counterfeits. Problems of Terminology and Classification in Song Ceramics', Song Ceramics. Art History, Archaeology and Technology, Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia, no. 22, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 2004, p. 72, fig. 12.


Collection of Mrs. Alfred Clark.

Sotheby's London, 25th March 1975, lot 101.

Eskenazi Ltd, London.

Mayuyama & Co. Ltd, Tokyo.