Ceramics in Mainland Southeast Asia:
Collections in the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

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Covered box with interior tray

  • Stoneware with iron glaze and iron pigment under clear glaze
  • 8.1 x 13.2 cm
  • Sawankhalok ware
  • 15th-16th century, Ayutthaya period
  • Origin: Ban Pa Yang kilns, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai province, Thailand
  • Provenance: Probably Indonesia
  • Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
  • F1994.19a-c


Clay: light gray stoneware with fine black scattered inclusions.
Glaze: clear, colorless glaze, slighty milky in areas, on exterior of body (except around neck and on base) and on exterior of lid (except center). Mottled dark brown glaze on defined circular area in center of lid, including knob. Thinner brown glaze on interior of body and upper surface of tray. Base of body, inside of lid, and lower surface of tray unglazed.
Decoration: painted in underglaze blackish-brown pigment, which appears bluish under milky glaze. The brush appears to have been stiff and blunt. On lid, ring of flower petals facing outward around central brown-glazed medallion, framed by concentric lines. On body, a wide band of leafy vine scroll centered on the shoulder, framed by three horizontal lines above and four below.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 29 May 1998) Two northern Vietnamese covered boxes with inset dishes and flat, knobless lids, diameter 15.5 cm, were excavated in 1995 from the Pandanan Island site in southwest Philippines. The site is dated to the mid-fifteenth century. Allison Diem suggests that the two boxes were intended as containers for betel chew materials (Diem 1997, 48).
A similar northern Vietnamese box with cobalt and overglaze enamel decoration, including traces of gold, also dated fifteenth century and of the same size, is in the Machida City Museum (Machida City Museum, ed. 1998, no. 88).
A Chinese blue-and-white box with molded lobed lid and interior lid (rather than "tray") with handle as well as design of plum blossoms and moon, is in the collection of Dries Blitz, Amsterdam. He dates it to circa 1500 and reports that it was found in Indonesia.

Diem, Allison I. 1997. "The Pandanan Wreck 1414: Centuries of Regional Interchange." Oriental Art XLIII: 45–48.

Machida Shiritsu Hakubutsukan (Machida City Museum), ed. 1998. Nankai no yakimono—Tōnan Ajia Kotōji Kai korekushon wo chūshin ni [Ceramics of the southern seas—centering on the Southeast Asian Ceramics Group collection], Machida Shiritsu Hakubutsukan zuroku 109. Machida: Machida Shiritsu Hakubutsukan.
2. (Louise Cort, 30 September 1998) Another, nearly identical jar, is (or was) in the Amos and Maria Worthington collection. (A photograph of the jar was found among photographs in Ceramics Storage collected by Josephine Knapp, presumably sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, and placed in the Ceramics Storage notebook record for the Freer jar). The Worthington jar also has an interior tray with thin brown glaze on the upper surface. The cap lid has the same brown-glazed boss with lotus-bud knob surrounded by painted radiating, veined petals, although there are only ten petals (compared with twelve on the Freer jar). The vinescroll on the shoulder is painted against a "dotted" ground (in the manner of Swatow blue-and-white jarlets and bowls); the vine is much simpler than that on the Freer jar, with pointed oval leaves only at the ends of the bare tendrils.

3. (Allison Diem, 20 October 1998) May have been used for cosmetics rather than for betel.  (A similar Chinese box with Xuande mark was found together with a wooden comb in the Pandanan shipwreck in the Philippines).

4. (Louise Cort, 19 January 2007) Cobalt-decorated or enamel-decorated Vietnamese boxes with interior trays, made at the Chu Dau kilns in northern Vietnam and dated to the late 15th century, were excavated from the Hoi An (Cu Lao Cham) shipwreck (for example, Butterfields 2000, lot 1891 (h. without lid 14.0 cm), lot 2009 (diam. 17.5 cm). It has been proposed that these were lunch boxes, holding rice in the body and accompaniments in the tray (Pope 2007, 198), but I strongly suspect they were for betel-chewing paraphernalia—or, as Allison Diem suggested, for cosmetics.

Butterfields. 2000. Treasures from the Hoi An Hoard. 2 vols, Vol. 2. San Francisco and Los Angeles: Butterfields.

Pope, Frank. 2007. Dragon Sea. Orlando: Harcourt Books.

5. (Louise Cort, 20 May 2008) Based on her research on shipwrecks, Roxanna Brown dates iron-decorated boxes from the Si Satchanalai kilns to the sixteenth century (circa 1520–1570/84) and describes them as the most common shape of that period (Brown 2004). The relationship of this vessel shape to Chinese and Vietnamese pieces datable to the fifteenth century suggests, however, that an earlier date may be appropriate.

Brown, Roxanna Maude. 2004. "The Ming Gap and Shipwreck Ceramics in Southeast Asia." Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles.

6. (Louise Cort, 29 May 2008) According to Dr. Don Hein, all Sawankhalok ware boxes come from kilns in Ban Pa Yang; none were made at Ban Ko Noi.

To Origin added Ban Pa Yang kiln group.

7. (Louise Cort, 20 July 2010) Another vessel of this type from the Si Satchanalai kilns is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Amb. and Mrs. Edward E. Masters, M.84.213.71a-c.

8. (R. Anderson per J. Smith, Oct. 22, 2010) transfer of remark from Provenance Field: "1. (Ken J.J.Baars, 12 November 1991) The S.E. Asian Ceramics now under consideration have been part of my private collection, acquired from various private sources during my stay in S.E. Asia from 1966 to 1970. During this period I carried out geophysical fieldwork for the Royal Dutch Shell Co. in S.E. Asia. My Oriental Ceramics collection was shipped to Holland with the rest of my personal belongings in early 1970 when my contract with the Brunei Shell Company ended. Baars Collection number 93A."

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