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Bottle with Engraved Peonies

Unknown11-12th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum
Kyoto, Japan

The design on this bottle was created using a very painstaking technique in which grey-brown clay was coated with thick white slip and overpainted with black iron paint. Then, sections of the iron layer were scraped away to reveal a contrasting black-on-white design, which was then given a coat of clear glaze before firing. This technique of black-on-white sgraffito with a thick layer of white slip under the glaze has been used a lot in the northern Chinese ceramic tradition since the Sui and Tang eras. Of the northern Chinese kilns, commercial sites producing objects for everyday use, like Cizhou in Hebei Province, were particularly well-known for decoration with lead paints, and this specific technique of applying a layer of lead paint and carving away the design was very popular in the Northern Song dynasty. Pottery shards bearing very similar peony scrolls in black-on-white sgraffito were excavated from Guantai, one of Cizhou’s best-known kilns, leading us to attribute this piece to Cizhou.
An elegant, flowing peony scroll motif covers the body of the bottle—its accomplished workmanship compares favorably with other pieces of its type.

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