Bottle

  • Stoneware with iron pigment and iron glaze
  • 19.2 x 19.5 cm
  • 16th-17th century, Ming dynasty
  • Origin: China
  • Provenance: Japan
  • Gift of Charles Lang Freer
  • F1911.354

Description

Bottle with broad flat shoulder and short neck with flaring rim.
Clay: gray stoneware fired reddish brown, thinly potted.
Glaze: glossy black with slight iridescence.
Decoration: floral designs painted in rusty brown.
Inscription on base.

Curatorial Remarks

1. Purchased from Yamanaka and Company, Kyoto. For price, see L. 2140, original Pottery List.

2. Original attribution: Chinese. Chien (Temmoku). See further, S.I. 1481, Appendix IV.

3. (J.E. Lodge, 1922) It may very well be later than Sung.

4. (J.E. Lodge, 1927) Very doubtful specimen. Not of practical use -- unglazed base both within and without. May be a Japanese imitation of Chinese ware.

5. (G.D. Guest, 1927) Cf. F1902.183.

6. (J.A. Pope, 1953) It has long seemed unlikely to me that this could be Chinese; and Miss Guest's comparison with F1902.183 should have given the clue. In the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is a piece almost duplicating this (their No. 50.1709; Hoyt Coll. Catalog No. 728), and they call it "Agano (?) ware, Japanese, 18th century." Morse classified F1902.183 as Tamba, and the shape, the potting and the clay of F1911.354 and F1902.183 are like enough to suggest very strongly a common origin. I do not know the basis for the Agano (?) attribution in Boston; none of the Agano pieces illustrated by Morse in his Catalogue look like this, but one would want to handle them.

7. (L.A. Cort, 1986) On a recent Tuesday Jo Knapp and I were shown a small Chinese storage jar acquired in Java that exhibited the same distinctive foot as do this jar and F1902.183: the foot is flat, textured in the center, and trimmed in a broad band around the edge. I feel that this jar, F1902.183, and the jar in the Hoyt collection mentioned in note 6 are all from the same Chinese kiln.

The jaunty decoration on the Hoyt jar and on this piece suggests a southern Chinese origin. The extreme light weight suggests that the pieces were made as commercial bottles to be filled with some product and sold, rather than as pieces intended to withstand long use in a household. In this sense these bottles resemble the well-known type of large Chinese commercial packing jar that was valued for its lightness. Those large jars have recently been associated with kiln sites in the vicinity of Foshan city, Kuangtung province (Tokugawa Yoshinobu, "A Study of Tea-leaf Storage Jars" in Chatsubo, Kenkyu-hen, pp. 8-10 of English summary). A further point of resemblance to the three large jars of this sort in the Freer collection (F1899.47, F1900.22 and F1900.109) is that both Freer bottles would appear to have spent some time in Japan, where, just as happened with the three large jars, F1902.183 was eventually mistaken for a Japanese piece. (I suspect the same history applies to the Hoyt bottle.)

Most of the large jars now in Japanese collections, having been used for tea-leaf storage, can be shown by circumstantial evidence to have been imported to Japan sometime during the Yuan or Ming dynasties and are now dated accordingly. I have located no published pieces from contexts that assist with dating the Freer bottles (If the bottles are indeed related to the large storage jars, one might expect them to turn up in the Philippines, for example, or in the same shipwrecks that yield the large jars among the more sumptuous ceramics), but a possible precursor of this bottle shape might be represented by certain black-glazed wares found on the Sinan wreck (Special Exhibition of Cultural Relics found off Sinan Coast, no. 260 and p.230, fig.13). The jar in question has a broad midsection, contracted shoulder, and everted horizontal rim; by context it is dated to the Yuan dynasty. Until more specific evidence comes to light, these bottles are dated to the Ming dynasty.

Attribution changed from Japanese, 18th century, to Chinese, Ming dynasty. Deleted Vase and changed to Bottle. Add Inscription on base, in ink: Ma [char] (horse).

8. (L.A. Cort, April 1991) In 1989 I saw similar brown-glazed bottles in the collection of Dean Hancock, New York City. He had acquired them as Vietnamese. I sent him photographs of F1911.354 and F1902.83 for study.

A bottle of this shape is published among pieces excavated at the sites within the city of Sakai, an important international port of the 16th century (Trade Ceramics Studies No. 10, 1990, p.162, no.111). The particular place from which the bottle was excavated (SKT 47) seems to have been the site of a storeroom that lay within the level associated with the major fire of 1615 (ibid. p.166).

In his exhibition on Southeast Asian ceramics in 1971 (SEACS Singapore, p.90, no.11), Willetts published a related jar (h. 16.5 cm) that had been given to the University of Singapore from the Government of Cambodia.

All this further supports a southern Chinese provenance -- widely dispersed along the trade routes -- and 16th century date.

9. (L.A. Cort, 24 April 1998) The finishing of the base on this bottle, like that of the bottle F1902.183, is very close to the finishing of the base of the green lead glazed "Tradescant" jar (F1902.204). The center of the flat base is rough in texture (as though roughened by having been pulled off a potter's wheel), and only a wide had around the circumference of the base has been smoothed. This evidence helps to support the idea of a common place and date of manufacture for all three pieces.

In Singapore in late February, I saw a number of bottles of this type in dealers' shops.

10. (Peter Y. K. Lam, Director, Art Museum, Chinese University of Hong Kong; 9 August 2000) Such bottles were made in the Shiwan area in the seventeenth through early eighteenth century, although the form is narrower and not so exaggerated, and the glazes were only monochrome, either green or yellow, never black, and never with decoration. F1911.354 has the surname of an owner, "Ma" (horse), written in ink on the base.

11. (L.A. Cort, 21 April 2000) Another vessel using the same distinctive manner of trimming the base, and presumably from the same production center (in Guangdong or Fujian province?), is in the Peabody-Essex Museum, Salem, MA (acc. no. E49551). It is a bottle with shiny black glaze, close in general form to the two Freer bottles, but with a splayed base and with a short spo


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