Tang dynasty pottery was preceded by Chinese ceramics dating back as far as the Palaeolithic age but it wasn’t until the Tang took over from the unifying Sui dynasty in 618 that China flourished. Considered by many to be a golden age of art, culture and discovery, it was also a wonderful period of development and innovation in the world of Tang dynasty ceramics and it is why today, Tang dynasty antiques are so highly prized.
Early Tang dynasty pottery varied dramatically and used high-fire and low-fire techniques but in the 289 years of Tang dynastic rule, the most successful and sought-after pieces were Tang sancai, literally ‘three colour.’ This form of Tang dynasty ceramics is moulded earthenware with colour added in naturalistic places rather than over the entirety of the piece and the process of producing high quality Tang dynasty pottery was relatively complex for seventh and eighth century potters – the moulds are baked in kilns to around 1,100°C, then the glaze is applied and finally the temperature is reduced to 900°C and baked again.
The origins of Tang sancai – polychrome lead-glazed decorated Tang dynasty pottery – were in the northern Chinese cities of Shaanxi and Loyang and for the most part the process used varying shades of yellow, green and white, earning the nickname ‘egg and spinach’ in the west, although other colours were used.
Chinese pottery two-colour globular pouring vessel, hu, with broad rounded body, short neck, flared rim and hexagonal spout on a gently everted foot and recessed base, covered overall in a rich and lustrous green and white splashed glaze extending on the interior of the rim with a clear glaze in the well, falling short of the foot and base revealing the buff-coloured body, the shoulder with a ribbed and raised band, the rim with a further ridge.
–Chinese ceramic box and cover, he, with gently domed top encircled by two incised rings with flat sides each with a brown glazed dot to indicate correct alignment, covered in an even pale cream glaze falling short of the smooth flat white base revealing the body, the interior also covered in a pale cream glaze.
Chinese sancai, three-colour glazed jar of ovoid form with gently flaring rim, painted on the shoulder with five petals in green, cream and chestnut glaze and incised with three concentric bands, dripping down towards the unglazed buff-coloured smooth unglaze pottery body, the flat base unglazed.
Chinese sancai, three-colour glazed pottery equestrian group, with Central Asian male rider modelled with his hands raised to hold the reins, wearing a green glazed long jacket with chestnut lapels, his face unglazed and heightened in black, white and red pigment, with detailed paint to his hair and Phrygian cap, fu tou, also in black tied at the back, the piebald horse standing with the head turned to the left with ears pricked and green splashes on a cream ground with three-colour saddle cloth and chestnut hoofs, the base unglazed.
A Chinese sancai (three colour) small pottery model of a standing cockerel the head looking forwards, covered with splashed green, chestnut and straw glaze, falling short of the lower section and revealing the buff pottery.
Further information on Tang
Many of these stunning Tang dynasty antiques were used as pieces that were buried with the dead for use in the afterlife, known as mingqui. They mainly took the form of horses, camels, servants and soldiers and even camel drivers from Africa and central Asia depicted by their thick beards and facial features with realistic detail unprecedented in the history of not only Tang dynasty ceramics but in all of Chinese art.
It has been suggested that no other potters of any other dynasty have been as skilful in their stunning representations of horses and consequently Tang dynasty antiques and sancai are collected and admired by collectors from around the world.
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‘Wucai’ Chinese five coloured wares, predominantly red, green and yellow enamels combined with underglaze blue and the white body.