Jar with incised and applied decoration

  • Unglazed stoneware
  • 38.7 x 29.2 x 29.2 cm
  • Sukhothai or Phitsanulok ware
  • 14th-15th century, Ayutthaya period
  • Origin: Sukhothai kilns or Ban Tao Hai kilns, Sukhothai or Phitsanulok, Sukhothai or Phitsanulok province, Thailand
  • Excavation provenance: Bananan, Puerto Galera municipality, Oriental Mindoro province, Philippines
  • Purchase — funds provided by Diana Sinkler Clagett, Ellen Walton, Karol K. Rodriguez, Donna L. Collins, and the Charles Lang Freer Endowment
  • F1995.7


1. (Louise A. Cort, 9 March 1995) A voluptuous form, with trumpet mouth, swelling body, and a broad foot counterbalancing the constricted neck and base. Jewelry-like swags and rosettes made from thin clay coils appliqued over incised and impressed bands at shoulder and lower neck. The grainy, unglazed stoneware clay is gray.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise A. Cort, 9 March 1995) This fine example of an unglazed gray stoneware jar with appliqué clay decoration was made in Thailand at either the Si Satchanalai kiln complex in Sukhothai Province or at the Baan Tao Hai kiln group in Phitsanulok Province. (Both kilns made this type of jar, and as yet there is no way to tell them apart.)  The jar dates to sometime in the 14th–16th centuries. (The archaeological basis for dating these jars is still inadequate, although the jar's formal resemblance to Khmer ceramic jars with pedestal bases suggests a date on the early side.) 

Related pieces already in the Freer collection, all of approximately the same date as this jar, are F1989.68, a brown-glazed Si Satchanalai jar; F1992.26, an unglazed Suphanburi jar; and F1994.16, a brown-glazed Burmese jar.

The tradition of unglazed stoneware jars made at Si Satchanalai (or Sawankhalok) and other kiln complexes in Thailand is unfamiliar and still largely unstudied, even though smaller, decorated and glazed ceramic wares from those same kilns have been known to Western collectors since the late nineteenth century. Only within the past decade have elaborately ornamented, unglazed jars related to this one been discovered at Si Satchanalai as well as at Ban Tao Hai, in Phitsanulok province, a kiln site identified and excavated in 1984. The appliquéd flourishes on such jars are comparable to decoration on bronze Buddhist images and lacquered objects also made in north-central Thailand.  Excavation at burial sites of related jars filled with cremated human remains indicates that unglazed jars were an integral part of the region's religious practice as well as bearers of its characteristic ornament. The lack of glaze is not a technical fault but a choice—perhaps an aesthetic preference.

Together with glazed Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai ceramics, unglazed jars from kilns in north-central Thailand constituted an important trade good dispatched from Siam's capital at Ayutthaya from the fourteenth century onward.  Dating of such jars is still imprecise, but datable excavated examples—found on Gulf of Siam shipwrecks, in Indonesia and the Philippines, and even in Japan—indicate that they are later than their archaic forms and "primitive" lack of glaze might suggest. 

2. (Elizabeth F. Duley, 20 July 1995) This jar was unsuccessfully offered as a purchase consideration to the Friends of Asian Arts at the fourth annual dinner on April 22, 1995.

3. (John Forbes, August 1995) According to Venecio Magbuhos, a Manila ceramic dealer from Puerto Galera the ceramic wares found in the diggings (where this piece was excavated) ranged from Five Dynasties to Ming (through Swatow) but not as late as transitional Ming wares. The oldest wares were found at the lowest levels, and the more recent pieces above. The diggings ran from 1961 to 1963. Provincial dealers brought their finds to Manila and gave the first choice to the major Filipino collectors of the day (Arturo Luz, Leandro Locsin, Arturo de Santos, and Pontenciano Badillo).

4. (Louise Cort, 10 August 1999) Jars of this type were also made at the kilns operating in the old city of Sukhothai. According to Don Hein, in a conversation in Thailand in January, 1998, the jars from the Sukhothai kiln sites tend to be reddish in color, whereas those made at Si Satchanalai kiln sites (such as Kiln 61) are gray. The reddish coloration of the Sukhothai jars is a result of the oxidizing kiln atmosphere during firing and may indicate a difference between the kiln structures at Sukhothai and at Si Satchanalai used to fire such jars. Based on Hein's description of color, this jar was probably made in Sukhothai rather than in Si Satchanalai or Phitsanulok.

Kiln 61 at Si Satchanalai was a large kiln (length 6.5 meters by width 4 meters). It fired small jars of this type together with very large water jars (one meter in diameter)—of which ten were found still in the kiln—and mortars (krok). Hein dates the underground kiln late 15th or 16th century because of its intrusion upon a semi-subterranean kiln.

Hein and his colleagues describe the unglazed stoneware from Si Satchanalai as made for the domestic market, like earthenware. They report that the greatest concentration of unglazed materials is found in Baan Koh Noi (Richards et al. 1984, 201). Another view of the gray jar in situ in Kiln 61 appears in ibid., fig. 114.

Jars of this type excavated from the kiln site near Phitsanulok are published in Hein and Sangkhanukit 1985, cover, 35, 38, 46. The calibrated radiocarbon date for the site was 1360 plus/minus 60 AD (ibid., 98).

Another approach to dating jars of this type is through comparison to objects in other materials that can be dated.  Figures of the so-called crowned Buddha in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, cast with the lost-wax technique, bear applied floral rosettes made originally with fine "strings" of wax. One is dated 15th–16th century (acc. no. 25.1); another is dated second half of the 17th century (acc. no. 54.2542). The National Museum in Bangkok displayed (in 1990) a slender brass bottle with cover with an attached stand formed as openwork upward-pointing leaf forms (seemingly cast in the lost-wax technique); the vessel was dated generally Sukhothai period, 12th–15th century. A hat belonging to Kamthiang House, part of the Siam Society in Bangkok, seemingly collected in northern Thailand (as are most of the objects displayed in the house) bears applied leaf-shaped decoration around the edge of the brim; these shapes seem to have been modeled from strings of  lac. 

Generally, evidence suggests that the dating for such jars is not as early as the unglazed surfaces and Khmer-inspired forms might suggest. Instead, these might be considered part of an "indigenous" lineage of pottery—in contrast to the decorated glazed wares made with export in mind, under the stylistic influence of Chinese ceramics—that continues a highly conservative form of jar used for purposes that included burial of cremated remains.

Richards, Richard, Donald Hein, Peter Burns, and Pisit Chareonwongsa. 1984. "Sukotai jidai no koyōseki to shutsudohin (Sukhothai Province Kiln Sites and Their Findings)." 197–208 in Sekai Tōji Zenshū (Ceramic Art of the World), Nankai (Southeast Asia), edited by Mikami Tsugio. Tokyo: Shogakukan.

Hein, Don, and Prachote Sangkhanukit. 1985. Report on the Excavation of the Ban Tao Hai kilns, Phitsanulok, Thailand, Research Centre for Southeast Asian Ceramics Papers 1. Adelaide: University of Adelaide.

5. (Louise Cort, 10 August 1999) Related objects:

Brown 1988, pl. 45 ("Sawankhalok Wares, Circa Fourteenth to Mid-sixteenth Centuries Black Monochromes"), fig. b. Collection of Robert Retka, from the Tak/Omkoi burial sites, height 34.3 cm (flat base). Ibid., pl. XLIII ("Northern Thai jars"), fig. a. Jar with pedestal base, height 30.5 cm, identified at Phitsanulok ware, probably fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries. Collection of Suan Pakkad Palace, Bangkok.

Shaw 1987, 24. Flat-based jar (no dimensions given), probably in the private collection of the author. The associated text describes such jars as coming from both the Baan Koh Noi and the Baan Pa Yang kiln groups within the Si Satchanalai kiln complex. 

Sherd number FSC-P-2314 in the Freer Study Collection is the shoulder of a huge unglazed gray jar bearing applied (an elaborate "leaf" form), incised (diagonal "jabbing"), and combed (both straight and undulating bands) decoration.  This piece was collected by John Pope at the Pa Yang kiln group (Si Satchanalai) in the 1950s.

A fragment of the neck and shoulder of a jar with appliquéd leaf motifs around the neck and a small lug on the shoulder was excavated from Penny's Bay, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, along with Chinese cobalt-decorated porcelain dating to the late 15th–early 16th centuries (Esser 1992). The jar is identified as Phitsanulok. Also found were fragments of paddle-patterned earthenware assumed to come from Southeast Asia.

Jar with upward-pointing "leaf" designs in appliqué around neck, in situ in Si Satchanalai, Baan Pa Yang Kiln 61(fig. 8) and jar with narrower pedestal base and wider rim (no dimensions given), recovered from the River Yom, Si Satchanalai (fig. 9), in Hein et al. 1986. Two unglazed gray jars, without appliquéd decoration, were recovered in the vicinity (ibid., fig. 14). 

Brown, Roxanna M. 1988. The Ceramics of South-East Asia: Their Dating and Identification. 2nd ed. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

Shaw, John C. 1987. Introducing Thai Ceramics; also Burmese and Khmer. Chiang Mai: Duangphorn Kemasingki.

Esser, Robert. 1992. "Archaeological Investigations and Finds on a Hong Kong Island." Arts of Asia 22(5): 134-135.

Hein, Don, P. Burns, and D. Richards. 1986. "An Alternative View of the Origins of Ceramic production at Si Satchanalai and Sukhothai Central Northern Thailand." SPAFA Digest VII(1): 22–33.

6. (Louise A. Cort, 8 June 2001) Ware changed from "Sawankhalok" to "Probably Sukhothai." Locale changed from "Phitsanulok (Phitsanulok Province)" to "Sukhothai province, Sukhothai city." "Sukhothai kiln complex" added.

7. (Louise Cort, 16 July 2003) Sherds of jars of this type were found at the site of Penny's Bay on Lantau Island, Hong Kong (Lam 2001, 38, fig. 7). The Ming occupation layer of this site was dated securely by art historical means to mid-Ming, late 15th–early 16th century (ibid., 37). In addition, a sherd of a "Phitsanulok" jar was dated by TL to 480 years BP +/- 60, or 1520 (ca. 1460–1580) (ibid., 37). Peter Lam accordingly dates the jar in fig. 7 to early 16th century.

Thus it seems reasonable to change the date of this jar from "14th–16th century" to the more tightly focused "15th–16th century."

Lam, Peter Y. K. 2001. "Ceramic Types from Penny's Bay, Hong Kong." Oriental Art XLVII(2): 36–42.

8. (Louise Cort, 12 January 2007) The jars with appliqué decoration recovered from the excavations of the Ban Tao Hai kilns at Phitsanulok are described as including a "high proportion of red-bodied stonewares" indicating "a clean, oxygenated firing cycle with little or no heavy reduction" (Hein and Sangkhanukit 1985, 24).

Changed Ware from Probably Sukhothai ware to Sukhothai or Phitsanulok ware.

Hein, Don, and Prachote Sangkhanukit. 1985. Report on the Excavation of the Ban Tao Hai kilns, Phitsanulok, Thailand, Research Centre for Southeast Asian Ceramics Papers 1. Adelaide: University of Adelaide.

9. (Louise Cort, 14 January 2007) Don Hein includes unglazed gray jars with applied decorations among his MON ceramics made in the early phase at the Si Satchanalai kilns (Hein 2001, fig. 24-I). Although Hein is cautious about dating, he suggests that MON production centered in the 13th–14th centuries (Hein 1999, 140). MON production made use of in-ground kilns, which contributed to the smoky firing producing the gray coloration of unglazed stoneware. Confusingly, Hein also published the jar shown in fig. 24f in fig. 53a, where it is identified as TRSW (Transitional Stoneware), which Hein cautiously dates as 14th–15th century (ibid., 150). The jar 24f is close in the shape of its base to this jar.

Changed Date from 15th–16th century to 14th–15th century.

Hein, Don. 2001. "The Sawankhalok Ceramic Industry: from Domestic Enterprise to Regional Entrepreneur." PhD Thesis, Department of Science and Technology, Deakin University, Melbourne.

Hein, Don. 1999. "The First Underglaze Painted Decoration at Sawankhalok: identification of a key influence? (Diqu shouci chuxian de youxia caihui: Taiguo taoci tazhan shi shang wailai yingxiang de zhongyao xiansuo?)." Guoli Taiwan daxue Meishushi yanjiu jikan (The Taida Journal of Art History) 7: 137–158.

10. (Louise Cort, 2 June 2008) According to Don Hein, in Washington to deliver the Pope Memorial Lecture, this jar appears to be Sawankhalok ware in style, but many aspects of it are unusual, and he suggests TL testing to verify its age. The banding at the bottom of the elevated foot is unusual.

The gray jars made at Sawankhalok kilns were fired at temperatures below 1200 degrees C. and they often bear unmelted fly ash. The surface of this jar may have been deliberately darkened. The blackening is uneven, whereas natural blackening in the firing process, using smoke that forms carbon crystals, is very even. Some old jars are red—but a deeper red associated with higher temperatures.

Eight stacking scars appear inside the neck, indicating the use of a dish-shaped stacking support with seven cuts around the edge. Cut dish-shaped supports found at Sawankhalok kiln sites normally bear four cuts. (Some were found bearing many cuts, but they were used cut-side up, not down.)

The lime bursts recall the problem experienced by modern potters at Sawankhalok from lumps of lime in the clay, probably the result of adding temper containing lime. He cannot recall seeing this effect on old pots. 

He cannot see traces of coils on the inside, suggesting that the clay was worked pretty well to smooth it out. Jars of this type were thrown in three pieces—base, body, and neck—then assembled. The band of clay covering the join between the neck and the shoulder is rounded, rather than squared as is typical.

11. (Louise Cort, 28 September 2013) The Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum Newsletter vol. 7 no. 1 (June-September 2013), p. 2, includes an article by Wannaporn Khambut on "Ritual Practice of the Jar Burials at Bang Khlang Ancient City, Sukhothai Province." It reports that unglazed jars of this type attributed to the Koh Noi kilns were excavated in groups from burial sites associated with two temples in the ancient city site in Sawankhalok district. The jars were used in the phase of burials dated late 14th to mid-15th century (the basis for the dating is not given). They contained skeletal remains (sometimes cremated), sometimes accompanied by jewelry and other grave goods. A smaller group of 12 unglazed earthenware pots was dated to the late 15th to 16th centuries.

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