The strongly potted ovoid jar is supported on a low foot with beveled edge, trimmed from the flat, solid base. The constricted neck rises to a wide mouth with thickened everted rim. Two small strap handles are applied below the neck on opposite sides. A deep brown opaque glaze with a soft luster covers the exterior, thinning at the mouth to a lighter translucent brown and stopping well short of the foot. The light putty-colored, exposed stoneware, visible at the lower body and unglazed base is dense and smooth. The glazed interior yields some indication of the potter’s finger marks from turning the vessel on a wheel. Four large milky-white patches with minuscule and multitudinous flecks of blue throughout were produced by the application of a viscous phosphatic glaze over the dark glaze, while smaller amorphous patches were added helter-skelter around the mouth rim.
Dark and brooding are adjectives not normally used to describe the arts of the Tang dynasty. However, they are easily applicable to the class of ceramics represented here by this dark-glazed jar, whose surface is like a night sky with clouds passing by. Although dark-glazed stonewares were staples at various kilns in north and south alike by the Tang period, this garnish of white adds another dimension to the attractiveness and effect of the ware. It is likely that the knock-out aesthetic of the splashed glaze colors of Tang sancai “three-colored” ware exerted some influence, nudging the pottery world toward eye-catching variations, and hence the blue-grey-white vaporous patches on dark ground seen here. The effect of phosphorous not only added to a glaze’s viscosity but enhanced its optical properties as well, lending an opalescence under some conditions and here providing what appears like filings from some luminous blue material.
Several kilns have been discovered that produced this distinctive ware during the Tang dynasty. The best known are the Huangdao kiln in Jiaxian (郏县黄道窑) and the Duandian kiln in Lushan (鲁山段店窑), both in Henan. Students now depend on a mid-9th century author writing on the subject of a musical instrument, drums, and making reference to high-quality, dark-glazed, mottled stoneware drum cores, providing one handle for dating the distinctive type.
The present is a reserved shape with comparable examples in a number of private and public collections, including the San Francisco Asian Art Museum (fig. 1) and the Palace Museum in Beijing (figs. 2-3). These wares did not seem to figure prominently as grave goods in China nor in foreign trade. However, a jar in the Museum Pusat in Jakarta might have reached those shores centuries ago, when other Tang ceramics also arrived and in good numbers (fig. 4).
Fig. 1: Two-handled dark-glazed stoneware jar, Tang dynasty, 9th century, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco after William Watson, Tang and Liao Ceramics, Fribourg, 1984, fig. 44, p. 73.
Fig. 2: Two-handled dark-glazed stoneware jar, Tang dynasty, 9th century, Palace Museum, Beijing, after Gugong bowuguan lidai yishu guan chenliu pin tumu, Beijing, 1991, no. 695, p. 199.
Fig. 3: Two-handled dark-glazed stoneware jar, Tang dynasty, 9th century, Palace Museum, Beijing, after Gugong bowuguan lidai yishu guan chenliu pin tumu, Beijing, 1991, no. 697, p. 199.
Fig. 4: Two-handled dark-glazed stoneware jar, Tang dynasty, 9th century, Museum Pusat, Jakarta, after The World’s Great Collections: Oriental Ceramics, vol. 3: Museum Pusat, Jakarta, Tokyo, 1981, no. 69.