• Stoneware with white slip and cobalt pigment under colorless glaze; iron slip on base
  • 7.5 x 37.7 x 37.7 cm
  • 15th century, Later Le dynasty
  • Origin: Red River Delta kilns, Hai Duong province, Vietnam
  • Provenance: Sulawesi, Indonesia
  • Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
  • F1987.8


Large dish, thickly potted, with narrow everted rim, deep cavetto, flat center over flat base, and low rounded foot.
Clay: stoneware; dense, smooth, light grayish-buff.
Glaze: thin, high-fired, transparent, low luster, over white slip. Thin light-brown translucent glaze brushed unevenly onto foot. Foot rim unglazed. Base wiped counter-clockwise with thin glaze wash marked with striations.
Decoration: Painted in underglaze cobalt blue on white slip. Central design is of two fish facing in opposite directions and ventrally opposed among water weeds. This is framed by a narrow band within double lines, containing six spaced motifs -- three cloud scrolls alternating with three six-petal flowers and scrolls. Cavetto has eight peony flowers alternating with sprays of spiky leaves. Although interrupted, the impression is of a continuous scroll. Exterior of cavetto, lotus petal panels containing pendant scroll.
Mark: none.

Curatorial Remarks

1.  (Josephine A. Knapp, 1990) All of the design elements are Chinese inspired, 14th century style, and the composition, although showing variation, is also like Chinese 14th century blue-and-white. The blue is somewhat grayish with variation from pale to dark, from thick to thin wash and line. It is similar to the Chinese type with fairly high manganese content of comparable period. The 14th century Chinese blue-and-white wares of the best quality show a finer blue. While there is usually a time lag in design (e.g. in this case from the 14th to the 15th century) this would not be true of mineral availability.

The type encompasses, besides fish, the following subjects: birds, peonies, chrysanthemums, lotus, bamboo and some mythical animals.

It is noteworthy that a number of the fish dishes in the SEACS 1982 exhibition, Vietnamese Ceramics, are dated 15th–16th century and some other blue-and-white dishes 16th century (Young et al., eds. 1982). The dating of this piece might be reviewed, especially considering the scholarship that went into the catalogue. However, Guy 1989, 51, dates the Boder dish fig. 43, as 15th century. That is the dish which so closely resembles this one and is seen in SEACS exhibition (Young et al., eds. 1982, 33[fig. g] in catalogue — also in Mikami, ed. 1984).

Young, Carol M., Marie-France Dupoizat, and Elizabeth W. Lane, eds. 1982. Vietnamese Ceramics. Singapore: Southeast Asian Ceramic Society and Oxford University Press.

Guy, John. 1989. Ceramic Traditions of South–East Asia. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

Mikami Tsugio, ed. 1984. Nankai (Southeast Asia). Vol. 16, Sekai Toji Zenshū (Ceramic Art of the World). Tokyo: Shogakukan.

2.  (Josephine A. Knapp, 1990) Some comparable examples:

Lammers and Ridho 1974, 36, 5A19/1971. Found in Sumatra and which closely resembles the Freer piece in composition, but which appears to be more coarsely painted.  A more elegant version is ibid., 37, 5A20/1978 which has ducks added to the central design. It has a chocolate slip on base. This seems even more like the Freer piece in quality and the organization of the design elements. It was found in Kalimantan.

Mikami, ed. 1984, nos. 29, 145–149.

Christie's London, Piccus Collection sale, Dec. 7, 1984, lot 83, dish with two fish.

Joseph 1973, 163. No. 96 — one fish. A finer example is shown on ibid., 167[pl. 103].  The solitary catfish is in dorsal view. The blue is very fine, stated in caption as being imported.

Young et al., ed.s 1982, 33[fig. g], Bodor Coll. shows close resemblance. Also see ibid., 46[fig. p] which is dated 16th century.  Color pl. 139 shows nos. 152 and 153 which are dated 15th–16th c.

Lammers, Cheng, and Abu Ridho. 1974. Annamese Ceramics in the Museum Pusat. Jakarta: Foremost Jaya.

Joseph, Adrian M. 1973. Chinese and Annamese Ceramics found in the Philippines and Indonesia. London: Hugh Moss Publishing.

Mikami Tsugio, ed. 1984. Nankai (Southeast Asia). Vol. 16, Sekai Tōji Zenshū (Ceramic Art of the World). Tokyo: Shogakukan.

Young, Carol M., Marie-France Dupoizat, and Elizabeth W. Lane, eds. 1982. Vietnamese Ceramics. Singapore: Southeast Asian Ceramic Society and Oxford University Press.

3.  (Dr. Jochen May, private collector, Germany, 13 October 1998) One of the few examples with a glazed base.

4.  (Allison Diem, 20 October 1998) Made for the Majapahit market?

5.  (Louise Allison Cort, 5 November 2003) A dish wish the same central motif of two fish, but back-to-back rather than belly-to-belly, among water weeds, diam. 36.5 cm, in the Honda Collection, Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan, is published as 14th–15th century Bùi and Nguyễn-Long 2001, no. 44. The base bears a thin twirl of brown wash. Another dish of this type, in the Matsuoka Museum of Art, Tokyo (ibid., no. 45), bears fish of the same type as on the Freer dish, identified as carp.

Title changed from "dish" to "dish with design of two carp among waterweeds."

Bùi Minh Trí, and Kerry Nguyễn-Long. 2001. Gốm Hoa Lam Việt Nam (Vietnamese Blue and White Ceramics). Hanoi: Nhà xuảt bấn khoa học xā hội (Social sciences publishing house).

6. (R. Andeson per J. Smith, 22 Sept 2010) Transferred from Provenance Field: "1. (Louise Cort, 12 May 2004) Maria Worthington, in a telephone conversation yesterday, told me that she purchased this dish in Jakarta, Indonesia. She was told that it had come from Sulawesi. She speculated that the large number of Vietnamese (and other) ceramics recovered from Sulawesi was the result of the island's rich raw materials (including copra and timber) that would have been traded for ceramics."

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