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 brown-splashed, black-glazed lobed dish (Dh6.8m); and a Dingyao ribbed tripod incense burner (Dh8.5m). The auction garnered total sales of Dh171.8m.