This classic ewer represents one of two distinct types with a bird-headed mouth or spout made during the Tang dynasty. Each was influenced by foreign metalwork prototypes. The present example belongs to the group of ewers which is conceived as a flattened vase to be seen from two sides and which has two decorative subjects. The second category includes ewers potted in the round, employing continuous decoration.
One side of the present ewer depicts what is traditionally described as the 'Parthian-shot', where an equestrian shoots an arrow backwards while in full gallop. Parthia, a kingdom in West Asia, was conquered by the Sassinid Persians in A.D. 226 and was famed for their equestrian skills. The ewer depicting a foreign subject-matter to one side, is decorated with the classically Chinese motif of the phoenix on the other.
Ewers of this pattern are known to have been decorated in a wide variety of coloured glazes. An example unearthed from Sanqiao, Xian in 1959, was included in the Hong Kong Museum of Art exhibition, Treasures from Chang'an: Capital of the Silk Road, 1993-94, illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 30; one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was included in the exhibition Foreigners in Ancient Chinese Art, The China House Gallery, New York, 1969, illustrated in the Catalogue, no. 59; one from the Museum of Far Eastern Art, Stockholm, illustrated in Oriental Ceramics, Kondasha Series, Tokyo, 1983, vol. 8, pl. 23; another illustrated in Porcelain of the Jin and Tang Dynasties, The Complete Collection of Treasure of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1996, fig. 208, is from the Palace Museum, Beijing; one is in the Tsui Museum of Art, illustrated in Gems of Chinese Art, Hong Kong, 1992, pl. 30; one from the Matsuoka Museum of Art, is illustrated in Selected Masterpieces of Chinese Ceramics, 1988, pl. 10; one illustrated by Rene-Yvon Lefebvre d'Argence, Chinese Ceramics in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1967, p. 63, pl. XXVIb; and the example from the Idemitsu Collection, is illustrated by W. Watson, Tang and Liao Ceramics, Fribourg, 1984, p. 16, fig. 7.
Similar ewers were also sold at auction: in our New York Rooms, The Hardy Collection, 21 September 1995, lot 86; The Hartman Collection, 20 March 2001, lot 115; and in our Los Angeles Rooms, 4 December 1998, lot 55.