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

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Jar with incised decoration

  • Stoneware with translucent greenish-yellow and iron glazes
  • 15 x cm
  • 13th-14th century, Tran dynasty
  • Origin: Red River Delta kilns, Hai Duong province, Vietnam
  • Purchase — funds provided by the Docents of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
  • F1998.10

Description

1. (Stephen P. Koob, 10 February 1998) Large glazed round jar, with wide mouth, thick out-turned rim and flat base. Creamy gray-white glaze on the exterior and interior, except for the base and interior bottom. Decorated on the exterior with incised lines forming "panels," within which large floral designs are executed in brown glaze. Two small holes punched through on the upper shoulder of one side.

2. (Louise Cort, 3 March 1998) A wide-mouthed jar with four ornamented panels and a broad, flat base. The decoration is cut into the soft clay through the just-applied raw glaze and painted with iron pigment. The glaze on this jar fired to pale yellow-green.

Published References

1. Lawton, Thomas, and Thomas W. Lentz. 1988. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 212–213.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 3 March 1998) These five vessels (F1998.10–14) were made at workshops in the Red River Delta ceramics complex of northern Vietnam and their dates span the 12th through 14th centuries, during the Ly (1009–1225) and Tran (1225–1400) dynasties. They represent the sensitive, subtle forms of wares glazed with ivory or celadon-colored glazes that are viewed by many connoisseurs as the finest products of Vietnamese kilns (Stevenson and Guy eds. 1997, 23). These wares, made prior to Vietnam's active engagement in international trade from the mid-14th century onward, which resulted in the deposition of Vietnamese ceramics in Turkey, Egypt, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, are said to embody indigenous taste more explicitly than the blue-and-white ceramics that were the main trade cargo. Presumably the customers for such ceramics were local rulers, nobles, and temples.

This wide-mouthed jar with four ornamented panels and a broad, flat base emphasized by a pedestal-like band belongs to a group of wares formerly called "Thanh Hoa" because of their excavation from tombs in that northern Vietnamese province in the 1930s. They are characterized by decoration cut into the soft clay through the just-applied raw glaze and painted with iron glaze. The function of the jar, with two holes neatly punched into the shoulder on the diagonal, is not known (an identical jar is in a private Japanese collection; Ozaki, ed. 1992, no. 12), but other vessels in the family include many barrel-shaped lidded jars of various heights (the type excavated from tombs in Thanh Hoa), and a jar in the Musées Royaux d' Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, bears an ink inscription inside the lid reading "wine container" (Stevenson and Guy, eds. 1997, no. 64).  The glaze on this jar was fired pale yellow-green. The jar was placed on five clay wads for firing (cf. Stevenson and Guy 1997, no. 65; Ozaki 1992, no. 12 [base], p. 89).  This jar is dated 12th–14th century.

Ozaki Naoto, ed. 1992. Betonamu no tōji (Vietnamese Ceramics Exhibition). Fukuoka: Fukuoka-shi Bijutsukan (Fukuoka Art Museum).

Stevenson, John, and John Guy, eds. 1997. Vietnamese Ceramics, A Separate Tradition. Chicago: Art Media Resources.

2. (Louise A. Cort, 3 March 1998) An identical jar is in a private Japanese collection; ibid., no. 12. Japanese connoisseurs have suggested the jar was used as an incense burner or charcoal brazier.  Honda and Shimazu 1993, no. 7. 

Another jar of this type, with the paired holes on the shoulder but aquatic motifs in the panels, was donated to the Musée Guimet as part of the collection gathered by the French archaeologist Henri Maspero in Vietnam between 1908 and 1919, mainly from the ancient site of Dai La west of Hanoi, where Ly and Tran palaces were built.  It is dated Tran dynasty, eleventh-twelfth century.  Fromentin 1997, 92[fig. 8], 103.

Other vessels in the family include many barrel-shaped lidded jars of various heights (the type excavated from tombs in Thanh Hoa), and a jar in the Musées Royaux d' Art et d'Histoire, Brussels, bears an ink inscription inside the lid reading "wine container" (Stevenson and Guy eds. 1997, no. 64).  The glaze on this jar was fired pale yellow-green.  The jar was placed on five clay wads for firing (cf. Stevenson and Guy, eds. 1997, no. 65; Ozaki, ed. 1992, 89, no. 12 [base]).

Ozaki Naoto, ed. 1992. Betonamu no tōji (Vietnamese Ceramics Exhibition). Fukuoka: Fukuoka-shi Bijutsukan (Fukuoka Art Museum).

Hiromu Honda, and Noriki Shimazu. 1993. Vietnamese and Chinese Ceramics Used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Singapore, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Fromentin, Hélène. 1997. "La céramique vietnamienne de la donation Maspero au musée national des Arts asiatiques-Guimet." Arts Asiatiques 52: 89–105.

3. (Louise A. Cort, 25 March 1999) A large barrel-shaped Vietnamese jar with inlaid brown-glaze decoration is in the current exhibition at Kaikodo Gallery, New York (Rogers 1999, no. 70). Viewing this jar gave me the opportunity to examine the interior.  The unglazed bottom showed the faint shadows of five round spur-marks arranged in a ring. The spur-marks were about the size of the four marks and one surviving clay wad on the base of the Freer jar, and their arrangement suggested that a jar of about the same size as the Freer jar had been placed inside the large jar for firing. On the basis of the type of lotus vinescroll in its decoration, Mary Ann Rogers dates the large jar to the later 13th or 14th century (corresponding to Yuan) (ibid., 315). It is interesting to see this additional proof of the close relationship between the large barrel-shaped jars and smaller jars like the Freer’s.

Rogers, Howard. 1999. "Exhibition: In the Company of Spirits." Kokaido 70: 212–216 (nos. 70–71), 314–316.

4. (Louise A. Cort, 8 February 2000) A vessel of this shape, with floral motifs closely resembling those on the Freer jar, is in the collection of the National Museum of History, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  A photograph taken by John Menke of the jar on view in the museum in the early 1990s shows a case label reading "Gom thoi Tran" (ceramics of the Tran Dynasty).  Another vessel of the same shape, with different motifs, is published in Bảo Tàng Lịch Sử Việt Nam et al., eds. 1998, no. 95, where it is dated 14th century.  Its height is given as 14 centimeters.  Both vessels bear pairs of holes positioned diagonally on the shoulder.

Bảo Tàng Lịch Sử Việt Nam (National Museum of Vietnamese History), Lê Trung, and Trinh Thi Hoa, eds. 1998. Vietnamese ceramics in the museum of Vietnamese history, Ho Chi Minh City. Ho Chi Minh City: Bảo Tàng Lịch Sử Việt Nam (National Museum of Vietnamese History).

5. (Louise Cort, 21 May 2004) A jar of this shape is in the Brown collection, Hong Kong (Brow and Brow 2004, 87[fig. 15]). It is dated Ly–Tran dynastic period, 11th–13th century; height 13 cm, diameter 18 cm. The vessel is described as a "tureen" and the assertion is made that vessels of this type "served a basic utilitarian function—storing food" (ibid., 87). The jar is carefully photographed so as not to show the pair of holes beneath the neck (assuming that they appear on this vessel, as on all other vessels of the same shape that I have seen).

Brow, James R., and Anh Hoang Brow. 2004. "Vietnamese Ceramics: A Ten Thousand Year Continuum." Arts of Asia 34(2): 78–94.

6. (Louise Cort, 2 November 2004) Several vessels of this type have been excavated from the fifteenth-century layer in the Thang Long citadel site in Hanoi, which I saw in March this year. In the recent publication on that site, Tống Trung Tín, ed. 2006, 72, in the essay written by Bui Minh Tri, they are dated as Tran dynasty (1225–1400).

Changed date from "Ly (1009–1225) or Tran (1225–1400) dynasty" to "Tran dynasty (1225–1400"; changed Date from 12th–14th century to 13th–14th century.

Tống Trung Tín, ed. 2006. Hoàng Thành Thăng Long (Thang Long Imperial Citadel). Hà Nội: Nhà xuảt bấn văn hóa thông tin (Culture-Information Publishing House).

7. (Louise Cort, 29 December 2004) A pair of holes, lined up horizontally rather than on the diagonal as on this jar, appears on the neck of a vessel with tall, everted neck nearly the same size as the short body (h. 15 cm). The unglazed gray jar (BTTH 3361) is dated to the Posterior Le dynasty, 15th century, and is in the collection of the Thanh Hoa Museum (Bộ Văn Hóa-Thông Tin and Bảo Tàng Lịch Sử Việt Nam 2003, 323, no. 349). This vessel shape is the only one, other than the type represented by the Freer jar, on which I have noted such holes. It might have been used as a spittoon, although the caption calls it a vase.

Bộ Văn Hóa-Thông Tin (Ministry of Culture-Information), and Bảo Tàng Lịch Sử Việt Nam (National Museum of Vietnamese History). 2003. Cồ Vật Việt Nam (Vietnamese Antiquities). Ha Noi: Viện Bảo Tàng Lịch Sử Việt Nam and Bộ Văn Hóa–Thông Tin.

8. (Louise Cort, 17 February 2005) In March, 2004, in Hanoi, I paid two visits to the important archaeological site of the Thang Long citadel in Ba Dinh. The presence of archaeological layers beneath an empty field was discovered when digging began to build a new government hall. Construction was halted and excavation of the site began in December 2002. Archaeologists found layers of buildings and artifacts dating to the Le So dynasty and thereafter (15th–18th century), the royal citadel built after the capital of Thanh Long was founded in 1010 C.E., and the Dai La period (7th–9th centuries). Several vessels of this type were found (Bùi Minh Trí 2004, fig. 82). Bui Minh Tri dates them to the Tran period (1225–1400).

Bùi Minh Trí. 2006. "Nét đẹp cửa đo gốm sứ trong Hoàng cung Thăng Long (The Beauty of Ceramics from Thang Long Imperial Palaces)." 66–97 (Vietnamese and English) in Hoàng Thành Thăng Long (Thang Long Imperial Citadel), edited by Tong Trung Tin. Ha Noi: Nhà xuảt bấn văn hóa thông tin (Culture-Information Publishing House).

9. (Louise Cort, 8 June 2007) The Archaeology Museum, Hue, displayed a fragment of a jar of this type, with the same type of decoration, among materials recovered from the Hoa Chau citadel site, Quang Thanh commune, Quang Dien district, in July 1997. Materials excavated from the site spanned the 15th–16th century.

10. (Louise Cort, 3 March 2008) A vessel of this type, decorated with a four-petal flower augmented by two curving leaves, is in the Huet collection at the Museées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire and (like the jar in the Guimet acquired by Maspero, note 1) is said to have been collected at Dai La (Brown 1989, pl. 3-c).

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

11. (R. Anderson per J. Smith, 29 Oct 2010) Transfer of remark from Provenance Field: "1. (Louise Cort, 19 December 1997) The Chao Phraya proprietors explained that this came from the collection of an Australian ambassador to Vietnam around 1982."

12. (Louise Cort, 7 August 2014) A jar of this type is identified as from the Thang Long kilns and dating to the Tran dynasty, 13th-14th century. The design rendered in inlaid brown glaze is described as lemon flower (Tong and Bui 2010, plate 101). The text describes the "kilns of Thang Long" active in producing glazed ceramics from the Ly dynasty (p. 54, pls. 68-74) into the Mac dynasty (pls. 151-152).

Tong Trung Tin and Bui Minh Tri. 2010. Thang Long -- Ha Noi: Thousand-Year History Underground. Ha Noi: Social Sciences Publishing House.


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