Lot 104
  • 104

A RARE SANCAI ‘PHOENIX-HEAD’ EWER TANG DYNASTY

Estimate
40,000 - 60,000 GBP
Sold
bidding is closed

Description

  • pottery and Paulownia wood box
the elongated ovoid body rising from a spreading foot to a narrow cylindrical neck, surmounted by a garlic-form mouth extended to a phoenix-head spout, set on one side with a foliate handle, the exterior applied with crisply moulded floral crests framed by stylised palmettes, all between shaped floral cartouches above and petal-shaped lappets enclosing trefoil leaves below, the shoulder and neck each encircled by quadruple fillets, covered overall in a cream glaze splashed with amber and olive-green, Japanese wood box

Provenance

Mayuyama & Co. Ltd., Tokyo.
Collection of L. Wannieck, Paris (according to label).

Exhibited

Osaka City Museum, Osaka, 1976, cat. no. 1-75.

Literature

Kokka, Tokyo, 1973.
Gakuji Hasebe, Sekai Tôji Zenshu [Ceramic Art of the World], Tokyo, 1976, cat.no. 117.
Mayuyama: Seventy Years, vol. 11, Tokyo, 1976, cat. no. 227.

Catalogue Note

Modelled in the form of a Sasanian metal ewer and applied with Hellenistic-inspired decoration, this ewer embodies the commercial and cultural exchange that characterises the art of the early Tang dynasty. Margaret Medley in Metalwork and Chinese Ceramics, London, 1972 (p. 4), discusses the far-reaching effect on Tang potters of the opening of diplomatic relations between the Chinese Emperor Yangdi of the Sui dynasty (581-618) and the Sasanian Persian Empire (224-651), which led to the exchange of tributary gifts as well as the arrival of Persian craftsmen at the Imperial court in the Tang capital Chang’an (today’s Xi’an, Shaanxi).

Phoenix head ewers with applied designs like the present piece are extremely rare. Only a few related examples appear to have been published. Three are illustrated in Sekai toji zenshu/Ceramics art of the World, vol. 11, Tokyo, 1976, col. pls 35, 199 and 200, the first in the Hakutsuru Art Museum, Kobe, the second, from the collection of Takakichi Aso, and the third from the Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo. Another ewer is published in Sekai toji zenshu/Catalogue of World’s Ceramics, vol. 9, Tokyo, 1956, pl. 53. See also a sancai ewer included in the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition The Ceramic Art of China, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1971, cat. no. 44. Another ewer from the Ellsworth Collection was sold at Christie’s New York, 17th March 2015, lot 17. For a rare example of related phoenix head ewer covered with a celadon glaze, see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain of the Jin and Tang Dynasties, Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 172.

While the present piece like the companion ewers listed above are individually modelled and finished, there also exists a more common type of Tang sancai phoenix head ewer with flattened body and relief decoration created using twin moulds and luted vertically. See two examples illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Ceramics, vol. 5: Sui, Tang and Five Dynasties (II), Beijing and Shijiazhuang, 2013, pls 261-262, and a ewer unearthed in Xi’an, in National Treasure Collection of Rare Cultural Relics of Shaanxi Province: Tang Sancai, Xi’an, 1998, p. 30. For further discussion on Tang ceramics inspired by foreign prototypes, such as these ewers, see Jessica Rawson, 'Inside out: Creating the exotic within early Tang dynasty China in the seventh and eighth centuries',World Art, vol. 2, no. 1, March 2012, pp. 25-45.

The use of Tang sancai ware was discussed at a recent symposium at National Taiwan University, Taipei, February 2015, where it was suggested that it was used both in daily life as utilitarian vessels or religious objects and as funerary goods, but primarily by the upper and wealthy classes. See also Hsie Mingliang, The World of Ancient Chinese Lead-Glazed Wares: from the Warring States to Tang, Taipei, 2014, pp. 85-118. A woodblock print of the Great Passion Dharani and a Forty-Two-Armed Guanyin, finished shortly after 1148 in Japan, depicts a line drawing of Guanyin (Bodhisattva of Compassion) holding a phoenix head ewer, though with a spout, see Hsie Mingliang, Taoci shouji [Notes of Ceramics], Taipei, 2008, p. 349, fig. 28.

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