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Plate in the shape of a flower

Plate in the shape of a flower

Plate in the shape of a flower. China; Tang dynasty (618–906). Glazed earthenware. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60P524.

What is this objects?
Sancai (three-colored) decoration was not limited to figures, but was also used on plates, bottles, bowls and other wares made for the tomb. This piece, with its lobed edges, is a dish. 

How was it made?
This object was made of low-fired earthenware that resulted in a fairly light body, providing an excellent ground for the three-color decoration. 

What is unique about this piece?
This six-lobed plate is a rare example of its type, raised on three curved legs (almost hidden underneath), creating a tripod form. The lobes are meant to resemble lotus or melon leaves. The colors have been prevented from running freely by carving design patterns in the plate, so that the colors pool in the desired areas. Being a flat surface, the colors were more likely to stay in place than glaze colors on vertical objects. The shape of the plate with its contoured edges reflects hammered metal shapes, many of which were produced by foreign merchants using gold and silver techniques from West Asia.

Metal objects do not often appear in Western collections of Tang (618–906) Chinese art but they were very popular at that time. Caches of buried treasure such as the Hejia village hoard found in the western market section of the old capital Chang’an in 1970 reveal a high concentration of metal objects, including 38 gold items and 216 silver items, mostly bowls, plates, and cups. Lead-glazed ceramics for the tomb often copied these more expensive metal wares used by the living. The lead-glazed ceramics were more economical as tomb provisions, but they could not be used in daily life, since lead was poisonous. Metal objects of gold and silver, by contrast, were believed to confer health benefits on those who used them.