… was the price paid at a re­cent auc­tion for this unas­sum­ing porce­lain bowl. Here’s what makes it so pre­cious

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A rare Ru-ware bowl sells for mil­lions

The brush-washer bowl dates back to China’s Song Dy­nasty (960 to 1279). And yet, de­spite be­ing an es­ti­mated 900 years old, it is in pris­tine con­di­tion. Brush wash­ers were tra­di­tion­ally used by the artists of the im­pe­rial court in an­cient China, to clean their del­i­cate cal­lig­ra­phy tools and paint­brushes.

The im­pe­rial court com­mis­sioned this piece from the most no­table of the era’s five great kilns in Ruzhou, which was known for us­ing the rarest – and hence most de­sir­able – ceram­ics. The bowl is de­fined by its clas­sic pro­por­tions and three “sesame seed” de­pres­sions, where it rested on kiln sup­ports.

The bowl, which has a five-inch di­am­e­ter, is a rare ex­am­ple of Ru guanyao or Ru-ware, which is known for its in­tense blue-green glaze and ice-crackle pat­tern. The glaze is ap­plied in sev­eral lay­ers, as well as over the rim.

Ru-ware is revered in Asia, where it has al­most myth­i­cal sta­tus, due to its short-lived pro­duc­tion pe­riod (these ceram­ics are gen­er­ally be­lieved to have been cre­ated by a few kilns over a pe­riod of only 20 years). In fact, only four pieces of heir­loom Ru-ware are known to cur­rently ex­ist in pri­vate col­lec­tions.

This ex­am­ple from the Le Cong Tang col­lec­tion was for­merly owned by the Chang Foun­da­tion. It sold at a Sotheby’s Hong Kong auc­tion last month, go­ing for more than double its pre-sale es­ti­mate of US$13 mil­lion, and set a world record for Chi­nese ceram­ics. The sale beat the pre­vi­ous auc­tion record of $36.3m, held by a “Chicken Cup” from the Ming Dy­nasty.

Other no­table pieces from the cel­e­brated col­lec­tion at the Sotheby’s Hong Kong auc­tion in­clude: a pe­ony box and cover with flo­ret ap­pliqué from the Yaozhou kilns (Dh2.3m); a rare and ex­cep­tional im­pe­rial heir­loom brown­splashed, black-glazed lobed dish (Dh6.8m); and a Dingyao ribbed tri­pod in­cense burner (Dh8.5m). The auc­tion gar­nered to­tal sales of Dh171.8m.

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