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Ewer, probably 850–950

Ewer, probably 850-950

Ewer, probably 850-950. China; Ding kilns, Hebei province. Tang dynasty (618–906). Porcelain. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P1587.

What is this object?
This object dates to the late Tang (618-906) or Five Dynasties period, roughly the 800s–900s. This small white ewer (pouring vessel) with handle and spout is associated with the northern ding kilns, which also produced white wares. It is likely that this ewer was used to pour water for the preparation of tea. By 800, making and drinking of tea had become a craze in China, and there was a major market forporcelain tea vessels and cups. Porcelain was preferred for these uses because the color was more compatible with the dark teas drunk at the time and because it conducted heat less readily than most metals. It is an example of early porcelain or high-fired wares, and was produced for use by the living rather than for tomb burial.

How was this object made?
The whiteness of this porcelains derives from kaolin clay, which was prevalent in the north, and the addition of a white clay slip. Kaolin has a low percentage of iron, and produces a hard white body when fired at high temperatures in an oxygen-rich kiln environment. The greenish color on the yue ware is made by adding more iron to the glaze, and high-firing in an oxygen-reduced kiln atmosphere.

Why is this object important?
This object is among the earliest types of porcelains produced in China. It also exemplifies the tradition of white wares, which often competed for marketplace and collector attention during the Tang (618-906) and Song (960–1279) dynasties. Xing kilns produced some of the earliest white porcelains, which were lovingly described as resembling ice and snow. Ding kilns appear to have developed later (in the same region around Hebei province, not far from present-day Beijing) and gradually overtook the xing kilns to produce many of the white wares that were popular in the early Northern Song dynasty. Sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart, but ding wares typically have tear drops (where the glaze pools) in the glaze—seen here near the bottom of the vessel.