A sancai-glazed hand  warmer. Tang dynasty (618-907). 5⅛ in  (13 cm) high, box. This  work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for

Collecting Guide: Tang-dynasty sancai

In October 2016 The Pavilion Sale — Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Christie’s Hong Kong presented the Dexinshuwu Collection of exceptional sancai-glazed pieces


Highlights of The Pavilion Sale in October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong included the Dexinshuwu Collection, comprising exceptional sancai pieces from the Tang dynasty (618-907). With their sophisticated shapes and vibrant glazes, these pieces, which were collected over decades, showcase the mostly brown, green and amber palette of sancai and the versatility of these wares beyond their original design for use as mortuary objects.

A sancai-glazed applique-decorated tripod jar. Tang dynasty (618-907). 5¼  in (13.3 cm) high, box. This  work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$275,000$US35,600

A sancai-glazed applique-decorated tripod jar. Tang dynasty (618-907). 5¼ in (13.3 cm) high, box. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$275,000/$US35,600

The pinnacle of Tang-dynasty art

Beyond the yellow, white and green hues associated with the ceramics produced in this period, sancai-glazed pieces come in many colourful variations. The Dexinshuwu Collection featured a selection of exquisitely crafted, richly coloured sancai-glazed pieces, including an applique-decorated tripod jar finished with green, amber and ivory glazes (above).


A large sancai-glazed jar. Tang dynasty (618-907). 7⅜ in (19 cm) high, box. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$125,000$US16,200
A large sancai-glazed jar. Tang dynasty (618-907). 7⅜ in (19 cm) high, box. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$125,000/$US16,200

The significance of cobalt blue

The production of a sancai piece, which had to be glazed and fired at high temperature, involved numerous meticulous steps. Some glazes had to be re-fired to achieve the ideal appearance, with cobalt blue-glazed wares particularly rare because the pigment was a precious material imported from Persia. As such, pieces with cobalt-blue glazes were symbols of wealth and status, and were usually found only in the homes of royal families and aristocrats. A large sancai-glazed jar (above) and a blue-splashed sancai-glazed cylindrical tripod censer (below) are among the sale’s highlights.

A blue-splashed sancai-glazed  cylindrical tripod censer. Tang dynasty (618-907). 6¼ in (16 cm) high, box.  This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$237,500$US30,800

A blue-splashed sancai-glazed cylindrical tripod censer. Tang dynasty (618-907). 6¼ in (16 cm) high, box. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$237,500/$US30,800

A glimpse into history

Known for its military strength and openness towards other races and religions, the Tang dynasty developed a culture of rich diversity. To some extent, foreign influence had a positive impact on the aesthetics of the period. Fine examples of this dynamic exchange include the sancai-glazed bottle vase and the sancai-glazed vase below, both from the Dexinshuwu Collection.

A sancai-glazed bottle  vase. Tang dynasty (618-907). 9 in (23 cm) high.  This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$112,500$US14,600
A sancai-glazed bottle vase. Tang dynasty (618-907). 9 in (23 cm) high. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$112,500/$US14,600
A sancai-glazed vase. Tang dynasty (618-907). 9½ in (24 cm) high. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$437,500$US56,700

A sancai-glazed vase. Tang dynasty (618-907). 9½ in (24 cm) high. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$437,500/$US56,700

As the preferred choice of burial ware for the elaborate set of funerary rituals that were enacted during the Tang dynasty, sancai-glazed pieces were commonly shaped as soldiers, slaves, foreigners, camels or horses.

More practical designs

A sancai-glazed hand warmer from the Dexinshuwu Collection suggests that these works of art were also used in daily life. Requiring just a few small lumps of burning coal inside, this rare sancai-glazed piece is in pristine condition, and offers a new understanding of their variety and function.

A sancai-glazed hand  warmer. Tang dynasty (618-907). 5⅛ in  (13 cm) high, box. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$1,000,000$US129,500
A sancai-glazed hand warmer. Tang dynasty (618-907). 5⅛ in (13 cm) high, box. This work was offered in The Pavilion Sale on 4 October 2016 at Christie’s Hong Kong and sold for HK$1,000,000/$US129,500

Sancai-glazed pieces enjoy a unique status in the long history of Chinese ceramics. From their captivating colours to the meticulous craftsmanship they embody, these stunning objects offer a window onto the customs and culture of ancient times, and new perspectives on the concept of beauty itself.