The globular body is supported on a solid base, trimmed around the periphery to form an everted foot. A tall trumpet neck rises vertically to a wide, strongly everted mouth finished with a thick rolled rim. The bold handle is comprised of a thick double-cord attached at the lip rim with four round, ball-shaped rivets, the handle arching low to the shoulder where a similar single rivet marks the point of attachment. A wide cylindrical spout is mounted on the opposite side. The brownish-black glaze—smooth, opaque and softly lustrous—covers the upper majority of the body, falling in very subtle swags above the unglazed, lower body, the off-white color also visible on the unglazed base. Quite complex in structure and color, the glaze consists of densely accumulated speckles ranging in color from lighter to darker reddish brown within the black substratum, resulting in various descriptions of this type of glaze including even “tea dust.”
The term “tea-dust” was coined much later to describe a glaze created during the Qing dynasty in which a matte-glaze blown onto the surface of a brighter glaze resulted in a green tea or olive color. The term was also applied to the complex and intriguing glazes developed during the Tang. dynasty heirs of the black-glazed stonewares that originated in the Yue region of Zhejiang province by at least the 4th century. By the Tang dynasty the production of such glazes was widespread including at kilns in Anhui, Henan, Shandong and Shanxi provinces. A number of ceramics previously attributed to these areas have been reattributed based on extensive excavations of the Tang-dynasty Huangpu kiln in the Yaozhou region of Shaanxi province, a vicinity most acclaimed for the production of so-called “Northern Celadon.” The present ewer can likewise be attributed to the Huangpu kiln given its similarity to excavated vessels (fig. 1).
It might also be noted that the broad-based, short-spouted form was a very conservative one, also related to the Yueyao black-glazed ewers of the 4th century, but perfectly suitable for preparing the steeped tea then in fashion and accounts for the volume of production, represented here also by fine examples from the Nezu Institute of fine Arts in Tokyo (fig. 2) and in the Minneapolis Institute of Art (fig. 3). According to Ho Kam-chuen, “It was during the Tang and Song dynasties that tea-drinking came into its own. From Lu Yu’s Cha jing we know that there existed in the Tang dynasty several types of tea utensils, each carefully designed to serve a specific purpose. Ewers were an essential tea vessel. Tang ewers tended to be broad-based, with a wide neck, and a very short straight spout, a form suitable for steeping the chopped, roasted and powdered tea leaves. Ewers of the late Tang, Five Dynasties, and Song were more elegant in shape, with a more slender neck and flared mouth, and a long curved spout to facilitate the pouring of water, a vital step in making the ‘whipped tea’ which was in vogue….”1 A small step in the direction toward the less globular and stout ewers to more slender and taller ones popular during the Song is evident in vessels datable to the late Tang, such as one originally in the Falk collection (fig. 4).
1. In Chinese Ceramic Tea Vessels: The K.S. Lo Collection, Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Wares, Hong Kong, 1991, p. 8.
Fig. 1. Tang-dynasty stoneware ewers from the Huangpu kiln site, Shaanxi province, after Tangdai Huangpu yaozi, Beijing, 1992, vol. 2, pl. LIV.
Fig. 2: “Brown” glazed ewer, Tang dynasty, 8th century, Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, Tokyo, after Tang Pottery and Porcelain, Tokyo, 1988, no. 29, p. 36.
Fig. 3: “Dark-brown” glazed ewer, Huangpu ware, Tang dynasty, 8-9th century, Minneapolis Institute of Art, after https://collections.artsmia.org/art/59516/ewer/China.
Fig. 4: “Tea-dust” glazed ewer, Huangpu ware, Tang dynasty 8th-9th century, Falk collection, after Robert D. Mowry, Hare’s Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers: Chinese Brown- and Black-glazed Ceramics, 400-1400, Cambridge, 1996, no 6. pp. 90-92, illustrated on p. 91.