The ewer has a wide flat base, a broad ovoid body with low sloping shoulders, a stout cylindrical neck with flared mouth, a short faceted spout of oval section set high on the shoulder, on the opposite side a thick, grooved, triple-strap handle looping high from the base of the neck to the shoulder with similar triple-strap lugs on two opposite sides of the shoulder between the spout and handle. Three large mold-pressed, low-relief appliqués, each representing a leafy and fruiting date palm, are affixed to the body, one below the spout and one beneath each of the two loop handles on the sides. A white-slip coating provided a base for the thin, warm-toned, transparent glaze that was applied in two layers stopping just short of the wide, angled foot, with some stray drips over the foot. The base is free of glaze revealing the light buff-colored stoneware body. The iron-manganese brown glaze covering each appliqué appears to have been applied by dipping the vessel into a glaze batch so as to cover each appliqué and, inadvertently, a portion of the adjacent appendages.
The creations of Changsha potters of the late Tang are well represented in museums and collections today that boast impressive numbers not only of the present type of applique-decorated ewer but a range of examples from Changsha’s vast storehouse of shapes and decorative designs. Painted décor abounds and is no less than encyclopedic in scope, the intriguing poetic images written on some although most meaningful to the Chinese themselves would have struck others as being attractively urbane and exotic The fruiting-grapevine and date-palm images reflect the impact of Middle Eastern interests and subjects, but they would have had a very broad appeal wherever acquired. While not as popular in Japan as other Chinese wares at the time, Changsha wares did not go unnoticed (fig. 1) and the same might be said about the Middle East where, as in Japan, celadons took first place.1 Chinese wares made their way to African shores, where we ourselves were captivated by a small museum in Mombasa in Kenya that housed a hodgepodge of Chinese imports from the late Tang onward, the earliest Chinese wares in Kenya said to be from the Changsha kilns.
Ceramics that did not reach their destination due to misfortunes on the well-travelled maritime routes, add greatly to our knowledge of types and trade when retrieved from ship wreckages. An Arab dhow that sank off Beilitung island south of Singapore in the 9th century was discovered in the late 90’s, the so-called Beilitung shipwreck, and its cargo has been well studied, exhibited and published. Almost ninety-five percent of the immense ceramic cargo of roughly 60,000 items was comprised of Changsha wares, and even as bowls with painted décor were in the vast majority, our type here was also represented (fig. 2).2 A ewer like the present in the Museum Pusat in Jakarta may have well been imported in the 9th century. (fig. 3). An important point of departure for Chinese ceramics on their way to foreign markets was the port at Yangzhou, where significant finds include Changsha wares similar to the present (fig. 4).
Such finds add to the immense store of information gleaned from surveys of the widespread kiln sites located north of Changsha itself in Hunan province, where examples like the present have been found (fig. 5). Along with the remains of vessels and other ceramic objects produced there during the Tang were the ceramic molds for creating the appliques, mysteriously similar to the accountments suspended from horse bridles seen on Tang ceramic models of horses of the time and the actual accoutrements themselves (figs. 6-7).
1. For example, a shard of a 9th-century ewer with an appliqué similar to the present was excavated in Nishapur in Iran, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
2. See especially Liu Yang, “Tang Dynasty Changsha Ceramics,” in Regina Krahl, John Guy, J. Keith Wilson and Julian Raby, Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds, Washington D.C., 2010, pp. 145-160.
Fig. 1: Changsha ewer with appliqué design, Tang dynasty, 9th century, excavated from the remains of a temple in Ishikawa, Ishikawa Prefecture Archaeological Research Institute, after Gakuji Hasebe & Atsushi Imai, Nihon shutsudo no Chūgoku tōji, (“Chinese Ceramics Excavated in Japan”), Chinese Ceramics series, Heibonsha, vol. 12, Tokyo, 1995, pl. 15.
Fig. 2: Changsha ewer with appliqué design, Tang dynasty, 9th century, from the Beilitung cargo, after https://www.lifeofguangzhou.com/wap/knowGZ/content.do?contextId=13151&frontParentCatalogId=175
Fig. 3: Changsha ewer with applied date palm medallions, Tang dynasty, 9th century, found in central Java, after The World’s Great Collections: Oriental Ceramics, vol. 3: Museum Pusat, Jakarta, Tokyo, 1981, no. 1, p. 5.
Fig. 4: Changsha ewer with appliqué design, Tang dynasty, 9th century, excavated in Yangzhou, Yangzhou Museum, after Zhongguo taoci quanji, vol. 6 (Tang-Five Dynasties), Beijing, 2000, pl. 1.
Fig. 5 Changsha ewer with appliqué design, Tang dynasty, 9th century, excavated at the Changsha kiln site, after Timothy See-Yiu Lam, Tang Ceramics: Changsha Kilns, Hong Kong, 1990, fig. 20-20.
Fig. 6: Ceramic mold, excavated at Changsha, Tang dynasty, 8th century, after Timothy See-Yiu Lam, Tang Ceramics Changsha Kilns, Hong Kong, 1990, fig. 129-220.
Fig. 7: Gilt & silvered bronze horse harness accoutrement, Tang dynasty, 8th century, after Kaikodo Journal III (Spring, 1997), no. 42, p. 141.