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 site of the Wuguishan kiln near the Southern Song capital of Hangzhou has provided much useful information regarding the development of Southern Song Guan wares and their influence on other southern ceramic traditions.
This unusual leaf-shaped cup provides evidence for the existence of close ties between some of the Longquan kilns in Zhejiang Province and the Guan wares produced for the court. The Longquan kilns are noted for their production of thick, gray-bodied ceramics covered with a glassy, dense, olive-green glaze. The gray stoneware body of this piece is typical of Longquan ware, while the grayish green of its glaze differs from the more olive tone common in these ceramics. Moreover, crazing is unusual on Longquan ware.
The shape of this cup is distinctive and its function is difficult to determine. Similarly shaped silver vessels were made during the Yuan dynasty (1278-1367); this cup has also been dated to that period. On the other hand, the close ties between the taste manifested in this charming ceramic and that of the Southern Song period under the influence of the court suggests a date in the first half of the 13th century. It seems likely that this cup presents an example of how the court influenced the production of Longquan ware during the Southern Song period.