Ovoid Pillow with Decoration of Blossoming Lotus Plants
Jin dynasty, 1115-1234
Creation Place: China, Hebei province or surrounding regions
Medium: Cizhou-type sancai ware: brick-red earthenware with lead-fluxed, emerald-green and canary- yellow glazes over an all-over coating of white slip that has been incised and carved. From northern China.
Dimensions: H. 14.3 x W. 40.8 x D. 25.5 cm (5 5/8 x 16 1/16 x 10 1/16 in.)
Provenance: J.J. Lally & Co., New York
Museum: Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum [Link]
Curatorial Description: This unusually large, bean-shaped pillow, or headrest, has a flat bottom, slightly convex sides, and a wide, concave top. Three white lotus blossoms surrounded by green lily pads and arrow-shaped leaves emblazon the top, the scene set against a a well-articulated background of bright yellow scrolling foliage in shallow relief on a reddish brown ground. A wide outer border of repeating triple-leaf clusters in green reserved on a dark chocolate ground encloses the multiple-line border that immediately frames the D-shaped pictorial panel. The bulging sides boast a continuous foliate scroll freely incised and covered with bright green glaze that stops short of the flat base, revealing the chalk white slip generously applied over the brick red earthenware body, the flat base with a Song-dynasty inscription of ten large characters brush-written in black ink over the white slip. The inscription on the base reads “Quan shi qi bai zhi, san yue san ri zhi,” which may be translated as, “Purchased by Master Quan for seven hundred cash on the third day of the third month.” In terms of technique of manufacture, the pillow was constructed of slabs of brick-red earthenware clay, presumably over a form. After the clay had dried, the pillow was generously covered all over with a coating of white slip. Once the slip had stabilized but before it was completely dry, the outlines of the floral scene on top were incised through the white slip on the top and sides; then the white slip was shaved from the background areas of the pattern to reveal the brick-red earthenware below–i.e., the slip was shaved away from the reddish background areas on the top and the dark areas between the leaf clusters on the border. After the piece had dried, lead-fluxed, clear, emerald-green, and amber-yellow glaze slurries were applied to localized areas of the pictorial design, the colored glazes used in descriptive fashion. The glazes show their actual colors over the white slip–the clear glaze over the lotus flowers; the green glaze over the leaves, borders, and sides; and the yellow glaze over the background areas of the top. Where the slip was shaved away, the glaze appears directly over the background areas of the top. Where the slip was shaved away, the glaze appears directly over the brick-red earthenware body, with different effect; over the exposed body clay, the yellow glaze appears rust red, and the green glaze grayish-brownish green. The inscription was written in ink after firing, perhaps by the pillow’s first owner.