The emperor himself promotes this new art that reaches an unprecedented refinement with the very short operation of the Ru kilns (Ru yao) just before the invasion by the Jin. The Song control is thereafter limited to south China with a temporary capital in the present city of Hangzhou.
Shocked by these events, the Southern Song are looking to redefine their values in a compromise between tradition and progress. Beyond Tang whose luxury was voluptuous, the Song are rediscovering the various shapes of antique ritual bronzes, from Shang to Han. They inaugurated a tradition for the porcelain imitation of old vessels that will be continued up to the Qing.
Two imperial kilns (Guan yao) are installed in Hangzhou. Their location is known, and one of them was probably inside the Imperial City. This official porcelain favors the balance of geometric shapes and the quality of the material instead of the figuration. The Guan of the Southern Song achieves a sophistication comparable to the white Ding porcelain of the early Song and to the wonderful Ru wares.
On April 7 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a Guan vase 22 cm high, lot 1. The press release from March 2 reveals the expectation: beyond HK $ 60M.
The general shape of this bottle made 800 years ago is a hu, with a tall neck over a bulging body. It is yet octagonal from neck to base, with the exception of its circular mouth rim. Four horizontal ribs in slight protuberance offer a pleasant partitioning.
Above the dark brown ceramic that is visible under the base, the bluish-green glaze was built by successive heatings in a complex process that resulted in softening the sharp angles without a mechanical intervention on the ceramic. The final cooling creates the crackled pattern according to the fashion already promoted by the Northern Song, symbolizing the random lines of the nature.