Wine cup, Tang dynasty (618–906), 8th–9th century
Silver with parcel gilding; L. 5 5/8 in. (14.3 cm)
Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1991 (1991.159)
This delicate silver wine cup is representative of the cultural exchanges between Persia, Sogdiana, and China that flourished during the Tang. The fine elegance of this dish, with four thin raised lobes around a gilded center, contrasts starkly with the robust and imposing Chinese ritual vessels that were created in earlier dynasties with the use of molds; however, the central motif, an engraved pair of mandarin ducks, is a traditional Chinese symbol of conjugal felicity. This cup may have been part of a large set of banquet ware and would have been used to enjoy the juice from the wine-making grape that was introduced to China in the seventh century soon after the Tang dynasty was established.
While vessels with Hellenistic, Bactrian, and Sasanian designs have been excavated from third-century Chinese tombs and Sogdian gilt silver has been found in tombs dating to the sixth century, the foreign influence on metalwork became deeper and more widespread in the Tang dynasty. The increased use of precious metals among the aristocracy itself was a custom adapted from kingdoms to the west. During this time, Persian craftsmen may have settled in Chang'an or other metropolises and taught their skills directly to Chinese craftsmen. It was the novel shapes and designs of Sogdian silver, though, that most powerfully influenced Tang metalwork and even ceramics.