Auction - 12th century ‘Ice Crackle Guan’ vase of Southern Song Dynasty

A rare 12th century ‘Ice Crackle Guan’ vase of the Southern Song Dynasty will be the highlight of the upcoming Sotheby’s London Sales of Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art to be held of May 11. With 343 lots coming under the hammer, the auction is expected to realise in excess of £11 million.

The vase, which was originally created for the Imperial Chinese court, formed part of the collection of Mr and Mrs Alfred Clark, who rank among the greatest English collectors of Chinese ceramics of the early 20th century. This is the first example of the archetypal ‘Guan’ style, from the official kilns of Hangzhou to appear at auction and it is estimated at £2.5- £3 million. The Song dynasty (960-1279) was the classic period which defined Chinese style and informed concepts of ceramic excellence the world over. ‘Guan’, the official ware of the Southern Song court, is perhaps the most admired and desirable of all Chinese ceramics. The vase combines the exceedingly rare combination of an archaic bronze shape, with a glaze displaying the fabled ‘ice crackle’. Its luminescent surface evokes light shining through superimposed shards of ice – the most rarified of the ‘Guan’ effects.

Sotheby’s will also offer for sale a spectacular five-piece doucai Qianlong period Altar garniture,
commissioned by the Qing Court for use in one of the Imperial family’s ancestral halls. Consisting of a tripod incense holder, two candleholders and a pair of gu-form vases, the garniture is decorated with the distinctive doucai technique, developed in the Ming dynasty. Each item is finely painted in bright enamels with beribboned Eight Buddhist Emblems, entwining lotus scrolls, plaintain leaves, lotus lappets and ruyi-headed borders. All are inscribed with six-character Qianlong seal marks.
A further highlight of the sale is a beautiful Qianlong seal mark and period moonflask. The vessel is distinguished by a rare copper-red underglaze and bears the striking motif of a magpie perched on a gnarled prunus branch – a device more often associated with blue and white ceramics. The
flask’s flattened globular body rises from a short oval foot to a waisted neck flanked by a pair of ruyi handles. The vase is closely related to a vessel from the Palace Museum in Beijing. Another is held in the Chinese Ceramics collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Both in shape and design this flask closely follows an early Ming blue and white original. The flat, moonflask form is highly prized - an adaptation of much earlier foreign pilgrim bottles made from leather. During the Tang dynasty these became the inspirationfor ceramic replicas and it is believed they were designed to contain wine,