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Artwork Details

11th century - 12th century
earthenware with slip and glaze
2 1/8 in x 11 13/16 in x 11 13/16 in (5.4 cm x 30 cm x 30 cm)
Museum Purchase

On Display

Not currently on display


Sancai, or tri-color wares, were one of the most brilliant innovations of Tang dynasty (618–907) potters. Working with the same clay used to produce white wares, potters added iron and copper oxide colorants to create the typical three-color palette of cream, amber, and olive green. Lead flux made it possible for these colored glazes to fuse to the earthenware body at relatively low kiln temperatures. It also allowed glazes to run, which made them very difficult to control.
Sancai flourished under the patronage of the Tang elite as a ware for tomb figurines and funerary wares. This market collapsed during a political crisis in the mid-eighth century, after which Chinese potters adopted new vessel types in an attempt to reach new markets. Shards of these later wares have been found as far away as Sri Lanka, Iraq, Egypt, Japan, and parts of Southeast Asia.
After the fall of the Tang dynasty in the early tenth century, potters in Iran sought to replicate sancai wares using local materials. This plate illustrates these efforts. (See also UMMA 1957/1.51)

Physical Description:

The dish belongs to a large group of sgraffiato wares, examples of which have been found from Afghanistan to northwest Iran. They are characterized by an incised design cut into a slip and enhanced with glazes of different colors, frequently yellow and green. In this particular case, and others like it, the concentric scratched lines are clearly determined by compass while the filler patterns are somewhat less controlled. The pigment is not applied to coincide with the engraved line but rather forms an independant web of color over it.

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