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Between and Mortarboard

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Accession Number



Artist Nationality
Chinese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
stoneware with glaze

2 5/8 in x 4 7/16 in x 4 7/16 in (6.7 cm x 11.3 cm x 11.3 cm);4 3/16 in x 6 5/16 in x 6 5/16 in (10.6 cm x 16 cm x 16 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Caroline I. Plumer for the James Marshall Plumer Collection

Label copy
The Song dynasty (960–1279) in China was a period when the arts of painting, calligraphy, and ceramics reached extraordinary levels of refinement. One of the most celebrated ceramics of the day, produced under the direct supervision of the imperial court, was Ding ware, a creamy white stoneware made at the Ding kiln in northern China and known for its thin walls and elegantly drawn incised designs.
In the early twelfth century, the supremacy of white Ding ware was challenged when a new kind of tea came into favor. No less an authority than Emperor Huizong (r. 1101–25) declared that the black-glazed tea bowls from the Jian kilns of Fujian province in southern China were best for this new tea.
Very soon the Ding kiln began to make iron-glazed black bowls in attempt to compete with the southern Jian kilns. For examples of each type of ware see: white Ding ware (UMMA 1982/1.274), black Jian ware (this teabowl), and black Ding ware (UMMA 1964/2.77).
No less an authority than Emperor Huizong (r. 1101–25), one of the greatest aesthetes in Chinese history, declared that the dark-glazed tea bowls from the Jian kilns of Fujian in south China were best for tea-drinking. Their thick bodies and black glaze retained heat and showed off the whipped froth of the beverage to advantage. The variegated iridescent glaze of Jian tea bowls was achieved through “controlled accidents” in the kiln and came to acquire aptly descriptive names like “oil spot,” “partridge-feather,” and most famous of all, “hare’s fur “.
Once black bowls became fashionable for tea in the early twelfth century, other kilns, even those best known for white wares, like the Ding kilns of north China, began to make bowls with dark glazes. The glazed surface of tautly-shaped and thinly-potted black Ding tea bowls was usually mat and plain, evoking the appearance of expensive black lacquer. The streaky russet- brown glaze applied over a previous glaze of shiny green-black on this Ding tea bowl is perhaps an attempt to outdo the sought-after “hare’s fur” glaze of Jian bowls.
(Label for UMMA Chinese Gallery Opening Rotation, March 2009)

Subject matter
This is a Jian ware tea bowl - jianyao (建窑) or tian mu (天目) in China, tenmoku (天目) in Japan. It was made in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) in Shuijizhen, Jianyang, Fujian Province, China.

As early as the Tang dynasty (618-907), the area of today’s Fujian province was famous for its tea production. Naturally, the kilns in that region specialized in tea wares, both provincial and for the court. During the Song dynasty, a cluster of kilns known as the Jian kilns became famous for their sole production of dark iron-rich glazed stoneware teabowls. These bowls not only kept tea warm, but their dark glazes created an aesthetically pleasing contract against the thick milk-white whipped tea that was customary to drink during the Song.

A variety of controlled kiln “accidents” during the firing to temperatures up to 1,300 degrees Celsius, allowed for the crystallization of iron to create a variety of iridescent, spotted, and streaking effects, known as  “oil spot,” “partridge-feather,” and most famous of all, “hare’s fur” glazes.  Aesthete Song Emperor Huizong (r.1101-1125), in his Da guan cha lun (Essay on tea in the Da Guan reign, 1107-1110) expressed this about the humble black bowls,  “For green and black teacups are highly valued, and those with streaks like hare’s fur most of all.” Furthermore, the Ching-te-Cchen T’ao Lu, written in 1795 by Lan Pu (trans. by Sayer), expresses, “In the Sung Days they preferred open-mouthed bowls for tea and considered the hare’s fur cups of Chien-an as the best” (64). These precious, yet humble teabowls were not just favored by the court, but by scholars and Chan (Zen) monks as well.

The literary records of hare’s fur and Jian teabowls in China and Japan are extensive. Literati culture flourished during the Song dynasty; to be a gentleman one must not only be well read in the classics, but also be a connoiseur of fine arts, and engage in cultural pursuits such as poetry, music, tea and wine drinking. Renowned Northern Song literatus Su Shi mentions the pleasure of using Jian teabowls, “Surprised, I suddenly saw the hare’s-fur markings (tumao ban) on my teabowl; I ladled fine wine from my spring jar” (Mowry, p. 30). Likewise, the Song dynasty scholar-official, Cai Xiang, in his treatise on tea or Chalu, written on imperial command between 1049-1053, expresses both the practical and aesthetic merits of Jian teabowls from Fujian, and exclaiming they are the best: "Tea is white, so black bowls are best. Tea bowls made in Fujian are deep; in color, they are bluish black with hare’s fur markings. Such bowls are thick-bodied; once warmed they retain their heat, so the tea does not cool too quickly. Tea bowls from other regions are either too thin or too purplish brown, so they are not as good as those from Fujian (Mowry, 30).

During the sixth century, the Indian Monk Boddhidharma introduced the merits of drinking tea while meditating to Chinese Buddhists. Chan (Zen) Buddhists of the Song dynasty, whose monasteries were numerous around Fujian, used whipped tea in ceremonies where tea was passed hand to hand between practitioners, also recognized the practical and aesthetic value of Jian teabowls. In 1223, Japanese Zen priest Dogon, along with Kato Shiro and Saemon Kagemasa, visited the monastery on Mount Tianmu (Temmoku in Japanese), in Zhejian province, where Jian teabowls were in common use. Enamored, they traveled to Fujian to learn how to produce these teabowls. When they returned to Japan, they set up a kiln at Seto, to produce a similar product, which they called temmoku. Nevertheless, the original teabowls from Jian were valued over the local production, and Song dynasty Jian teabowls were imported into Japan at great quantities beginning in the 13th century and lasting at least through the 16th century, as prized antiques to be used in Japanese tea-ceremonies.

Mowry, Robert D. 1996. Hare's Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers: Chinese Brown- and Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400-1400. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Art Museums.

Physical Description
This deep, conical bowl rests on a straight foot ring with subtle rim articulation. It is covered in a thickly applied dark iron-rich brown-black glaze with hare's fur or tuhao zhan (兔毫盏 ) markings. The thick glaze pools in one black drip lowering onto the exposed base. The interior surface has a crackle glaze.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
tea bowl

Collection Area

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stoneware (pottery)
tea bowls

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