China, Hebei Province; Northern Song period (960-1127), early 12th century
Porcelain with molded design under glaze (Ding ware)
H. 2 in. (5.1 cm); D. 9 in. (22.9 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection of Asian Art
The dragon was often used as a symbol of imperial power in China; from at least the 14th century, five-clawed dragons were used in ceramics and the decorative arts to represent the emperor, and four-clawed dragons, such as the one chasing a pearl on the interior of this dish, appear on objects that were intended to be used as imperial gifts. The high quality of the dish in the Asia Society Collection and its decoration suggest that it may have made for distribution by the court.
The dense and complex design exemplifies the style of decoration using molds. The use of molds to impress designs on pieces is an innovation in ceramic technology generally credited to kilns that produced Ding wares during the Northern Song period. The clarity of the design on this dish suggests that it may have been one of the first pieces made from the mold, for the impression becomes less precise after a mold has been used.