This ewer is categorised as Cizhou ware, a term used to define a wide range of Chinese ceramics produced between the 11th and 14th centuries, throughout the northern Chinese provinces of Hebei, Henan and Shaanxi. Although Cizhou ceramics were produced in many kilns using a variety of techniques, most are made from sturdy, high-fired clays (stoneware) with black and white surface decoration. Unlike the refined celadon and Jun wares made for the imperial court, Cizhou wares were considered ‘popular’ ceramics, which were made for domestic use. The stoneware body of this example was first covered in thick white slip to create the ribbed surface, and then coated a second time with an iron glaze to produce the lustrous black effect.
This ewer bears some resemblance to the form of the first teapots produced in China in the 16th century. Prior to the creation of the teapot, ewers were used to store foods, but also to serve warm wine or pour hot water into bowls of powdered tea, which was then whisked with a bamboo brush to create a thick, frothy drink. When the use of powdered tea gave way to the fashion for brewing loose leaf tea from around 1300, it is likely that ewers were initially used to brew the tea leaves and therefore came to inform teapot design.