Jar with three horizontal lugs

  • Stoneware with white slip under iron glaze; rattan
  • 40 x 34 cm
  • late 16th-late 17th century, Toungoo dynasty
  • Origin: Possibly Mon State, Burma
  • Provenance: Philippines
  • Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
  • F1994.16


1. (John Forbes, 25 April 1994) Very dark brown glaze falls short of base with some dripping and accumulation of glaze, wide everted mouth, three loop handles on shoulder connected with three non-contemporaneous split rattan handles, unglazed flat base exposes dark reddish brown clay, interior left unglazed, body decorated with two bands of rectangular panels framed by raised edges.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise A. Cort, 29 November 1993) This iron-glazed Burmese jar (which is the first example of a Burmese ceramic in the Freer collection) has rattan handles which were attached in the Philippines.

2. (Louise Cort, 19 April 2004) The upper half of a three-lugged jar of this type, with narrow neck, was unearthed from the Otomo castle town in Oita City, Oita Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. The jar was among a great number of ceramics, mainly Chinese but also Vietnamese and Thai, that appear to have been damaged in a fire in 1586, when the Shimazu forces overwhelmed the Otomo forces, and subsequently buried inside a set of ten large Bizen ware jars in a space that had formerly constituted a storage area (Ōita-shi Rekishi Shiryōkan, ed. 2003, no. 221).

Ōita-shi Rekishi Shiryōkan (Oita City History Museum), ed. 2003. Bungo Funai—Namban no irodori; Namban no bōeki tōjiki (Manifestations of Southern Barbarians in Bungo province; Southeast Asian trade ceramics. Oita: Ōita-shi Rekishi Shiryōkan.

3. (Louise Cort, 20 June 2005) Jars of this type were widely exported from Burma. In 1995 Arun Vorha gave me a photograph of "Chinese" storage jars in the palace in Travancore, India, that showed eleven larger jars of this same type of ware (some without decoration, and all seemingly in excellent condition).

Three larger jars of this type in the Topkapi collection, Istanbul, ranging in height from 56 to 92 cm, are published in Krahl 1986, no. 1952. They are dated to 16th century or later and described as ?South Chinese. A similar jar was recovered from the cargo of the Dutch East Indian ship Witte Leeuw, which sank off St. Helena in 1613 (van der Pijl-Ketel 1982, 226).

Fraser-Lu published several jars of this type as associated with the Mon culture of Lower Burma (which included the port city of Martaban, source of the popular name "martaban" for all large jars) (Fraser-Lu 1994, 200–201). However, she illustrates a modern jar of the same type as made at Kyauk-myaung, Shwei-bo district, in Upper Burma (ibid., 210).

A number of such jars appear in Adhaytman and Ridho 1984(nos. 181–192). Adhyatman added a postscript: "After a visit to Burma in November 1984, the author is convinced that (the jars mentioned) are Burmese.... Traditional kilns in Twante (Syriam) near Rangoon and in Shew-Nyein near Shwebo (Mandalay province) in Upper Burma are still producing similar brown-black jars." She illustrated modern jars from Shwebo (ibid., 187 and nos. 198–199).

Krahl, Regina. 1986. Chinese Ceramics in the Topkapi Saray Museum Istanbul. Vol. 2. London: Sotheby's Publications.

van der Pijl-Ketel, C.L., ed. 1982. The Ceramic Load of the Witte Leeuw (1613). Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum.   

Fraser-Lu, Sylvia. 1994. Burmese Crafts Past and Present. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.

Adhyatman, Sumarah, and Abu Ridho. 1984. Tempayan di Indonesia (Martavans in Indonesia). Jakarta: The Ceramic Society of Indonesia.

4. (Louise Cort, 14 January 2007) Changed Date from 16th–18th century to 16th–17th century, based on above evidence.

5. (Louise Cort, 28 February 2008) In his detailed study of jars of this type, Sakai Takashi (2005, 270–271) proposes a three-part chronology based on excavated materials in datable contexts:

I. Late 15th–late 16th century: large jars only [h. 70 cm or greater] (Lena cargo, Philippines)

II. End of 16th–end of 17th century: jars of 3 sizes [large, h. 70–100 cm; medium, h. 40–70 cm; small, h. less than 40 cm] (San Diego shipwreck, Otomo Funai-machi site)

III. 18th century onward: large jars only (no evidence of export, kiln sites around Mandalay)

This jar just falls within Sakai's medium-sized jar category and belongs to his period II. The date may be narrowed more specifically. Changed Date from 16th–17th century to late 16th–late 17th century.

Sakai proposes that the early large jars with high shoulders were made to provide a lightweight container of a single uniform size, and he thinks they might have been used primarily for grain. The increase in variety of sizes (and shapes) indicates an increase in overall demand for ceramic containers. The form of the largest size changed to one with a lower center of gravity, suiting them for holding liquids. The everted neck with squared rim (as on this jar) could support a heavy lid.

Regarding the use of the period 2 jars, he cites a record of 1596 by J. H. van Linshoten that mentions jars of assorted sizes holding various types of liquids, including palm wine, oil, and water for use on board ship (ibid., 273).

Sakai notes that a kiln site has not yet been determined for these jars, although finds are concentrated in Lower Burma (ibid., 269).

Sakai Takashi. 2005. "Indoyō no tōji bōeki: Toruko to Higashi Ajia no kōryū wo megutte (The Ceramic Trade of the Indian Ocean: Concerning Exchange between Turkey with the Eastern Part of Asia)." Jōchi Ajiagaku (The Journal of Sophia Asian Studies) 23: 261–309 (Japanese), 261–263 (English summary).

6. (Louise Cort, 2 March 2008) In his discussion of glazed ceramics in Burma, Tsuda notes that the potters presently making black-glazed stoneware jars at Kyaukmyaung, north of Mandalay and west of Shwebo in Upper Burma, are ethnic Mon and trace their ancestry to a village south of Moulmein, from which they were brought north in the mid-18th century (Tsuda 2005, 58).

Tsuda Takenori. 2005. "Myanmaa seyū tōji—seisan gijitsu to hennen no tame no shiryō (Glazed Ceramics in Myanmar: Their Manufacturing Technique and Historical Documents for Dating)." Jōchi Ajiagaku (The Journal of Sophia Asian Studies) 23: 56–80 (Japanese), 55–56 (English summary).

7. (Louise Cort, 27 August 2014) On a research visit to Burma in March, 2014, Don Hein visited a number of kiln sites in the vicinity of Mawlamyine (Moulmein), Mon State, and in adjacent Karen (Kayin) State that made black-glazed storage jars, some with white slip decoration. When evidence of kiln structures was found, the kilns were constructed of bricks.

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