Asian Antiques Appraisals And Valuations

Rare Chinese Ru Dish Worth £15 Million Discovered in the British Museum

A blue-green dish held in the British Museum, long thought to be from Korea, has recently been identified as one of less than 100 known pieces of the rarest type of Chinese pottery. The reassessment has significantly raised the value of the bowl from £5,000 to £15 million.

Dating back around 900 years to the time of Imperial China’s Song dynasty, the pottery is known as ‘Ru official ware’. It was noted for its lack of decoration and typically pale, ‘duck-egg’ blue glaze. The pottery was produced only for a short period between 1086–1125 CE, exclusively for the use of members of the Northern Song Imperial court.

The secret to Ru ware’s unique qualities lay in its manufacture at the ‘Great Kiln’ of Qingliangsi in Henan, which had access to clay of a particular composition. However, imperial access to the kiln site was lost after armies invaded Northern China, forcing the court to flee southwards. Despite having access to many of the original craftsmen, the Song dynasty was unable to replicate the magic of the Ru ware after relocating.

Fresh analysis by Far Eastern ceramics expert Regina Krahl suggested that the small, brush washer dish was indeed a genuine Ru ware, prompting forensic chemical analysis. Cranfield Forensic Institute experts performed non-destructive X-ray fluorescence analysis of the dish, comparing this with scans of real Ru ware and Korean imitations. They found that the dish’s trace element ‘fingerprint’ matched those of the real thing, making the piece an unusual but nevertheless authentic piece of official Ru ware.

Ru ware comprises small items like dishes used for washing ink brushes, cups for drinking tea, and small vases. The rarity of these items makes them highly sought after by collectors and museums around the world, with only around 80 known pieces in existence. The discovery of this Ru ware dish in the British Museum’s collection has caused quite a stir in the art world.

The dish was originally acquired by the museum in the early 1900s, and was thought to be a Korean piece until recently. It was only when Regina Krahl examined the dish closely that its true origins were revealed. The identification has been described as a “once in a lifetime” discovery by curators at the British Museum.

The museum has said that it has no plans to sell the dish, and that it will remain on display for the public to enjoy. However, the increased value of the piece will have implications for the museum’s insurance and security arrangements. The dish will need to be carefully monitored to ensure its safety.

The discovery of this Ru ware dish is a reminder of the incredible craftsmanship and artistry of Imperial China’s Song dynasty. It is also a testament to the importance of careful analysis and re-examination of museum collections, as even seemingly minor items can hold great value and significance. The British Museum will continue to study and preserve this rare and beautiful piece of history for generations to come.


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