Miniature pottery jarlet "Song"
Song dynasty, 960AD - 1279AD, China, private collection from Denmark.
The Song (Sòng cháo) dynasty ruled China 960AD to 1279AD. When the Tang dynasty (618AD - 907AD) collapsed, a period of upheaval, rapid succession of dynasties, and multiple kingdoms followed. In the mid-tenth century, a general named Zhou Kuangyin reunified China, establishing the Song dynasty (960–1279) with himself as the first ruler, Emperor Taizu. The Somng dynasty was generally prosperous and at the time it was the world’s most powerful Empire economically, scientifically, and militarily. The reign split into two distinct periods: Northern Song (Běi sòng cháo, 960-1127) and Southern Song (Nán sòng cháo, 1127-1279). The Northern Song was based north of the Yangtze River and ruled a largely united China from their capital Kaifeng. The Southern Song refers to the period after the Song lost control of its northern half of the Jürchen-led Jin dynasty in the Jin-Song Wars.
During the Song, great advances were also made in science and technology. Hydraulic engineering, from canal and bridge building to the construction of enormous seafaring vessels, was perfected. Chemical science, pursued in the secret laboratories of Taoist scholars, helped to produce important compounds and chemicals, including gunpowder, and by the year 1000, bombs and grenades became available to Song armies. Technology was highly advanced in fields as diverse as agriculture, iron-working, and printing. Perhaps the most significant advance, however, was the invention of movable type printing, achieved around the year 1040, four hundred years before Gutenburg’s printing innovations in Europe. Song printed editions of texts, previously transmitted as handwritten manuscripts, helped to spread literacy and knowledge throughout the realm. Significant inventions or improvements on existing ideas included also paper money, the magnetic compass, the armillary sphere, etc. Despite the relative modernisation of China and its great economic wealth during the period, the Song court was so plagued with political factions and conservatism that the state could not withstand the challenge of the Mongol invasion and collapsed in 1279AD, replaced by the Yuan dynasty.
The arts flourished under the Song dynasty. Poetry, literature, painting and the performing arts were popular. The aesthetic taste of the Song can be summarized as elegance, serenity, naturalness and simplicity. The principal criterion for its aesthetics is the natural beauty, like ‘a lotus ﬂower out of clean water, being unaﬀectedly easy and natural'. In the decorative arts the Song dynasty marked a high point in Chinese pottery. The ceramic art of the Song Dynasty (960AD-1275AD) has historically been divided into two distinct periods of manufacture, the Northern Song (960-1127) where the court was located at Kaifeng and the Southern Song (1127-1275) where the capital shifted south to Hangzhou after the north was over run by the Jurchen tribes who established the Jin Dynasty (1127-1234). The Song court favored elegant ceramics with simple and refined forms and subtle gazes, reflecting the aesthetic values and introspective atmosphere of the time.
Alongside the simpler ceramics that suited court tastes, the popular market was extremely vibrant and productive in making ceramics with bold designs and multiple colors. The highest criterion of Song ceramics is its likeness to jade. The Chinese have a long history of worshipping jade and using it as ritual objects and decoration. The jade as symbol of ideal moral originated from the Shang (1600BC - 1046BC) and Western Zhou (c. 1046BC - 771BC) periods maturing at the end of the Spring and Autumn period (770BC - 476BC) and the Warring States period (475BC - 221 BC). The likeness of porcelain to jade was considered a standard in porcelain aesthetics already before the Song period. The technique for making porcelain matured already during the Tang dynasty (618–907), when porcelain ware was called ‘imitation of jade’ or ‘fake jade’. Especially, the imitation of jade dominated the criteria of high temperature stoneware and porcelain glazed in white, green or greenish glaze called celadon. Green porcelain imitated jadeite while white porcelain imitated white jade. The glaze colours of Song ceramics varied in many subtle tones from white, black and celadon to bluish or greenish white, most popular being white and green tones.
In the Song dynasty, there were six prominent ‘kiln groups’: Ding, Jun, Yaozhou, Cizhou in Northern China and Longquan and Jingdezhen in the South. Each kiln group consisted of several kilns. The ﬁve most well-known kilns during the Song dynasty were the Guan, Ge, Ding, Jun and Ru kilns. As to glaze, colour and form, each of them had their specialty. The wares of the Song Dynasty were primarily stoneware, except for the porcelaneous Ding and Qingbai wares. The former were produced in Jiancicun in Quyang County, Hebei province and the latter at a number of locations in Jiangxi province including Jingdezhen, where porcelain production was to be later centred. According to the colour of the glaze, monochrome stoneware and porcelain is usually categorized into green, white, black and greenish-white colour. The colour of the glaze is mainly determined by the iron amount in the glaze. Green glaze porcelain was made in the kilns of Yue, Guan, Ru and Longquan. The iron content being 8%, the glaze turns black; most black-glazed porcelain was produced in the Jian kiln in the Fujian province and Jizhou kiln in Jiangxi province, the crystallization of the glaze being like the fur of a black hare. The iron amount being lower than 0.63% produces white tones such as ivory white and sweet white glaze; the lower the iron amount, the whiter the colour. The iron amount being between 0.6%–1%, the fired products are greenish-white, for which colour the Jingdezhen kiln in Jiangxi province was the main manufacturing place.
The decoration on Song ceramics is modest and simple, if compared with later dynasties. Decorative patterns were mainly done by engraving, incising, stamping and impressing. In the early Song period engraving was the most common decoration technique and used in all kilns. Decorative motifs of the Song ceramics include flowers (lotus, peony, hibiscus), dragons, phoenix, cranes, rabbits, ish, duck, mandarin duck, deer and playing children; in addition, auxiliary patterns with meander, clouds, waves, lotus petals, curly leafs, banana leafs, circles, bands and coins were used.
Fascinating miniature jarlet with sloping shoulders, tapering sides and narrow neck are probably from a kiln in Jizhou in Jiangxi province. Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) period. Absolutely gorgeous brownish black glaze covers the jarlet. Interior unglazed. Good condition. Age-related wear. Intact. Minimal discolouring and abrasion. Dirt and dust. Size approx. 5,8cm x 4,6cm x 4,6cm. Weight c. 45g.
References, sources and citations:
Song Dynasty, Mark Cartwright, World History Encyclopedia. Last modified September 26, 2017. (https://www.worldhistory.org/Song_Dynasty/)
An Introduction to the Song dynasty (960–1279), Khan Academy. (https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/imperial-china/song-dynasty/a/an-introduction-to-the-song-dynasty-9601279)
Song to Yuan dynasties 960–1350, National Palace Museum, Taipei.(https://www.npm.edu.tw/exh99/ceramics/en/page-3.html#main)
The Enchantment of Song, Ying Jang & Annika Waenerberg, 2002, Academia.(https://www.academia.edu/10582197/The_Enchantment_of_Song)
Song Ceramics, Robert Bradlow Fine Art.(https://www.robertbradlowfineart.com/expertise/song-ceramics)
Song Ceramics, Edgar Vigário, January 2020.(https://www.academia.edu/41819578/Song_ceramics)