A RARE SANCAI ‘PHOENIX-HEAD’ EWER TANG DYNASTY
- pottery and Paulownia wood box
Collection of L. Wannieck, Paris (according to label).
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.
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.