To modern eyes, this refined dark-colored vessel and stand may look incredibly contemporary, but its subtle design and simple forms were actually the preferred aesthetic of China’s Song dynasty. From pure white stoneware to pale blue–glazed porcelain to dark-glazed wares, monochrome pieces with delicate designs were very popular; Black Ding ware like this cup and stand, however, was quite rare—described even in its own day as being as “rare as black swans.” Shaped to fit perfectly in cupped hands, this vessel was likely used by Buddhist monks to drink frothy white-leafed tea; the dark, smoothly reflective surface of the cup would have served as a striking contrast to the tea’s unique white foam. And the warmth of the tea, especially in the winter months, no doubt added a whole other level of appreciation.
Cupstand, Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), 11th/12th century. China. Gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection, 2013.194.