Altar jar (zun), porcelain, monochrome blue glaze, maker unknown, made in the reign of the Qing Jiaqing, Qing Dynasty, China, 1796-1820
This type of wine jar called zun was used in highly important ceremonies in Beijing, where the Qing emperors made offerings to Heaven, Earth, the Sun, the Moon, and theirimperial ancestors. It belongs to a group of special ceramic vessels introduced by the Qianlong emperor in 1748 and was used in such ceremonies until 1911. The group includes two kinds of covered stem bowls, deng and dou; three kinds of covered bowls, fu, gui and xing; and three kinds of wine vessels, zun jar, and jue and zhan cups.The zun wine jar was the largest of all these vessels. Each offering table was arranged with many vessels, each type containing special sacrificial offering food and drink to make a banquet for the gods and spirits. The Ming dynasty Jiajing emperor decreed in 1530 that blue coloured vessels must be used for offerings to Heaven; yellow coloured vessels for offerings to Earth; red coloured for the Sun; moon-white coloured for the Moon; and white coloured for ancestors.
This blue glazed zun wine jar was made in the reign of the Qing dynasty Jiaqing emperor (1796-1820) for use at Tiantan, at the open Altar to Heaven and in the covered Temple for Prayers for Good Harvests. The ceremony at the open Altar to Heaven was held on the winter solstice each year and was the most important of all offerings made by the emperors.
Research and text by Iain Clark
Curator, Asian art & Design
This altar jar called zun was purchased from the Sotherby's London Sale on 13 December 1977. It was Lot 559.