In form this rare and exquisite ewer shares a number of similarities with a silver covered jar with handle in the collection of the Shaanxi Museum of Chinese History. See The Silk Road - Treasures of Tang China, Singapore, 1991, p. 89. The Shaanxi vessel was excavated in 1970 at Hejia Village, Xi'an, Shaanxi province. Like the current vessel, sides of the jar have large, rounded, undecorated lotus leaves. On the cover of the jar are five roundels in simple petal form, reminiscent of the six roundels on the current ewer. Three of those on the cover contain the heads of gilded feline in high relief.
The elegant rolled leaf that provides the handle on the current ewer shows a similar approach to design to that seen on some of the items found at the Famen Temple. A silver-gilt covered tripod salt dish, bearing an inscription dating it to AD 868, excavated in 1987 from the inner chamber of the rooms under the stupa of the Famen Temple is illustrated in Gifts of the Tang Emperors - hidden Treasures from the Famen Temple, Tokyo, 1999, p. 93, no. 52. The cover of this salt dish is made in the form of a lotus leaf, and the edges of the leaf are rolled in a similar manner to those forming the handle on the current ewer. Slightly looser curling can be seen on the lotus leaf bases of a silver-gilt censer and a lotus-shaped bowl excavated from the same site, ibid., p. 68, nos. 27 and 23 respectively.
The theme of boy children at play, so charmingly depicted in the six roundels on the shoulders of the current ewer, has been enduringly popular in China, and is often seen on later porcelains. It is rarer on early metalwork but can be found on a gilded silver jar excavated in 1982 from a Tang dynasty hoard in Jiangsu province and now in the Zhenjiang City Museum illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Jin yin yushi juan, Hong Kong, 1994, p. 103, no. 53. The lobed silver-gilt jar has on its sides four cartouches formed by curving leaves, inside of which three little boys are shown in low relief against a pearl-matting ground. Similarly shaped cartouches are also seen on the plaques of a Song dynasty silver belt excavated in 1972 in Shaanxi province illustrated in Zhongguo meishi quanji Gongyi meishu lun -10- Jin yin boli falangqi, Beijing, 1987, pp. 53-4, nos. 107-9. In the cartouches on the silver belt plaques one small boy appears in high relief on each plaque. The scheme showing the roundels and the boys joined by a rope, seen on the current ewer, finds its closest comparison in the decoration on a Liao dynasty silver-gilt belt excavated in 1972 at Qianchuanghu village, Chaoyang county, Liaoning province, and now in the Chaoyang Prefectural Museum illustrated ibid., p. 61, nos. 123-4. On the largest plaque of this belt small boys are shown in high relief playing with all kinds of toys and each child has a floating scarf, which descends on either side of him to join the scarf of the next boy.
Determining the exact date of the current ewer is quite difficult. However, several things point to an early Liao date. The shape of both the ewer and its cover accord with those of a white-glazed ceramic ewer excavated from a Liao tomb dated AD 959 illustrated in Song Liao Jin Jinian ciqi, Beijing, 2004, p. 68, figs. 4-8. The ceramic form is simpler than that of the silver vessel and its foot is somewhat wider, but the link is clear. A lobed version of the form, with decoration around the spout is also shown resting in a warming bowl in the mural depicting the preparation of a feast on the wall of a Liao dynasty tomb belonging to the Zhang family excavated at Xiabali village, Xuanhua district, Zhangjiakou city, Hebei province illustrated in Xuanhua Liao mu bihua, Beijing, 2001, pl. 60. The pearl-matting ground against which the boys appear on the current ewer has been worked using a thin implement, and there are gaps between the rings. This perhaps has more in common with the pearl ground seen as background in the inner lozenge on the side of the Liao Dynasty silver-gilt pilgrim flask excavated in 1979 in Inner Mongolia illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua daquan - Jin yin yushi juan, op. cit., p. 133, no. 131 than with Tang dynasty metalwork. It, therefore, seems probable that this exceptional ewer dates to the 10th century, Liao Dynasty, but a Tang dynasty date cannot be discounted.
Technical examination report available upon request.