From the beginning of the Tang dynasty, ceramics are experiencing a great technical progress with the sancai. Sancai literally means three colors relating to yellow, green and purple but the cobalt blue is soon brought from the Middle East via the Silk Road. A ceramic sancai is performed in two firings at very high temperatures. The colored glaze is applied before the second heating.
A very small group of sancai ewers certainly dates from the early Tang dynasty, 1400 to 1300 years ago, perhaps even earlier than the availability of the blue. Their use is not known : palatial, ritual or funeral.
The elegant shape of these ceramic pieces copies some Sasanian metal ewers fitted with a handle. On a small conical base, the ovoid body is surmounted by a complex tall neck whose spout can take the form of a phoenix head. The foliate and floral decoration of the body links to a Western influence, possibly Hellenistic.
One of them 37 cm high was sold for £ 2.7 million including premium by Sotheby's on May 13, 2015. It had been announced with an estimate of £ 40K to 60K which is a good indicator of the difficulty to assess a piece of such a high rarity.
On September 13 in New York, Sotheby's sells a ewer a little simpler, 30 cm high, without the phoenix head in its design. The handle has an interesting shape of a twisted rope. The catalog attempts a comparison between the arabesque decoration of the body and and the jewelry representation in a torso of Avalokitesvara from the same dynasty. The ewer is estimated $ 500K, lot 6.
SOLD for $ 870K including premium