Northern Song (960-1126) imperial taste, particularly the interest in undecorated, delicately colored blue-gray or blue-green ware fostered by Emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125), was extremely influential in the production of blue-green glazed ware in southern China during the 12th and 13th centuries. For instance, Guan ware was manufactured at the Southern Song court (1126-1279) to imitate the wares said to have been made at the earlier Northern Song court. Unfortunately, no examples of Northern Song Guan ware are extant today, but Guan (which means "official") was purportedly produced within the precincts of the northern and southern capital cities under the direction of the official bureau responsible for provisioning the court. The excavation of the Wuguishan kiln near the Southern Song capital of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, has provided much useful information regarding the development of Southern Song Guan wares and their influence on other southern ceramic traditions.
This influence is apparent in the incense burner seen here. Made in the late 12th or early 13th century, its delicate gray-green glaze reflects the development of this type of glaze in the Northern Song dynasty. Its shape is based upon the form of gui vessels produced during the Western Zhou period (c. 1050-c. 770 BCE), and its appearance here most likely reflects the antiquarian revival that began in the Northern Song period.
Dark-bodied ceramics such as this censer with very thick glazes and prominent "crazing" (fine lines produced by the shrinking of the glaze in the kiln), enhanced by rubbing ink or some other substance into the cracks, are called Ge ware in current publications. Ge ware was first mentioned in the 14th-century publication Faithful Record of the Zhizheng Era (Zhizheng Zhiyi), written by Kong Qi, and it was continuously discussed in later Ming- and Qing-period works. According to these later literary sources, the term Ge ware, which can be translated "older brother ware," refers to ceramics produced under the supervision of Zhang Son One (Zhang Shengyi) whose younger brother, Zhang Son Two (Zhang Shenger), was responsible for the production of a yet unidentified ware known as Di, or "younger brother," ware.
Archaeological excavations at the Longquan kilns located in Zhejiang Province suggest that this intriguing incense burner and other examples of so-called Ge ware may have been produced there. These kilns are noted for their production of thick, gray-bodied ceramics covered with a glassy, dense, olive-green glaze. In 1956, excavations at the Dayou and Xikou kilns, two of the more than fifty Longquan sites, uncovered black-bodied wares with pale gray-green glazes very similar to the body and glaze of this incense burner. It is possible that potters working at these two kilns created such dark-bodied wares in an effort to re-create the dark purplish-colored clay sometimes used in the production of Guan wares. The Jiaotanxia kilns located near the Longquan area are known to have produced Guan wares to supplement those pieces made at Wuguishan, and it is not impossible that the kilns at Longquan also made Guan-style pieces for the use of the court bureaucracy.