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Phoenix-headed Ewer




Tang dynasty (618-907 C.E.)


Phoenix-headed Ewer


8th c. C.E.


Earthenware, three-colour lead glaze (sancai), moulded decoration


33.6 x 13.7 x 12.9 cm


Purchase, inv. 1949.50.Ed.3


Archeology and World Cultures

Three-colour (sancai) lead glaze was first documented in the seventh century. The glaze was applied to a white-slipped body and fired at 700 to 800 degrees Celsius. To achieve the different colours, metal oxides were added during the second firing: iron oxide for amber and brown, copper oxide for greens, and a neutral glaze that could be white or an opaque cream colour. Sancai potters also specialized in objects often inspired by foreign metalware and motifs transmitted along the Silk Road. Derived from functional vessels, their often elaborate ornamentation rendered them impractical. This beautiful phoenix-headed ceramic ewer takes its shape from a silver prototype. The handle in the shape of a vegetable sprout, the winged animal in relief on the belly and the representation of a mounted Parthian archer on the back are typical of Sogdian silversmithing, while the bas-relief appliqué decoration recalls another western metalworking technique, sbalzo.

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