Bronze with gilding and silver plate
Asuka period/7th century
Tokyo National Museum
This ewer, currently in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum, was originally part of the Imperial Bequest to Hôryû-ji Temple. In Meiji 11 (1878), it was given back to the Imperial Household.
The shape of this ewer, with the handle attached to a long neck and the main body expanding at the bottom, originated in the Persian Sassanian Dynasty (A.D. 226-642). Once thought to be made of silver, this piece was formerly designated a National Treasure as the Silver Dragon-Headed Vase (J. kohei). It was later found to be cast of bronze and plated with gold and silver.
The stately dragon's head forms the spout and its slender body is extended as the handle. A butterfly hinge at its jaw by the handle serves as the lid, which can be opened by flipping up the dragon's head, thus allowing the user to pour with one hand. The dragon's eyes are inset with pale green glass. On the main body, which was thinly cast, four winged horses (Pegasus), delicately depicted in fine hairline engraving (J. kebori) and highlighted with gilding, face each other in two pairs. The body, the spout, and the lever were cast separately, and the neck and main body were completed on a lathe.
This magnificent object, combining a Chinese dragon and the Persian Pegasus- traditional motifs of east and west-conveys a sense of power and energy in both design and form. Although it had been thought to originate in Tang-dynasty (618-c. 907) China, the molding of the dragon and the hairline engraving technique provide evidence that it may have been produced in seventh-century Japan.