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

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Water bottle made for the court of King Rama V

  • Porcelain with cobalt pigment under clear, colorless glaze.
  • 31.4 x 14.1 cm
  • Jingdezhen ware
  • late 19th century, Qing dynasty
  • Origin: Jingdezhen kilns, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, China
  • Provenance: Thailand
  • Gift from Doris Duke's Southeast Asian Art Collection
  • F2004.35a-b

Description

Water bottle, with long neck and pear-shaped body on everted footrim. Matching domed lid with bud-shaped knob.
Clay: porcelain.
Glaze: clear, colorless glaze.
Decoration: in cobalt pigment under the glaze, three sprays of auspicious fruits alternating with the monogram of Rama V, framed above and below by floral bands.
Mark: on the base, Jintang Faji.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 16 April 2004) Both these vessels (F2004.35 and 36) bear the same four-character hallmark, Jintang Faji, pertaining to the private workshop where the vessels were made to order. The mark appears on the base of the water bottle and on both the cap and the base of the tea canister.

2. (Louise Cort, 21 January 2005) The Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired two porcelain cups, decorated with cobalt in the same "coin" pattern as the Freer jar (F2004.36), from the Doris Duke Collection of Southeast Asian Art (2003.222.4–5). One other cup (2003.222.6) bears a textile-like geometric pattern, and another one (2003.222.7) bears Chinese-style sprays of pomegranate, Buddha-hand citron, a peach, and the character for longevity. The mouth rims and foot rims of this cup are bound in brass. A spittoon (2003.222.18) bears the same motifs as 2003.222.7. All four cups and the spittoon bear the same four-character mark as the two Freer pieces. The PAM also acquired Chinese porcelain decorated in lai nam thong and bencharong modes, but they are unmarked.

3. (Louise Cort, 25 January 2005) The Osotspa Ceramic Collection in Bangkok owns a tea set that includes two Yixing-type teapots and a group of blue-and-white porcelain lidded bowls, cups, and saucers. The decoration, like that of this bottle, alternates Chinese auspicious plant motifs with the initials of King Rama V (ruled 1868–1910) of the Chakri dynasty (Pariwat et. al. 1996, fig. 231).  The caption explains that the initials are in the arrangement known in Thai as ci bo and that the set was ordered from China in 1888.

According to the text (ibid., 227–228), even though European ceramics came into fashion, "several Chinese ceramic contests were held" during the reign of Rama V, who preferred Chinese blue-and-white wares. "He had Phraya Wissakam Silapa Prasit order that tea sets with his initials be made at the Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi province in 1888. M. C. Prawit Chumsai, generally called in Thai, Tan Tong, created the designs by adapting the abbreviation of the king's royal title, Cho Po Ro, into twelve styles imitating Chinese characters and motifs." First on the list is "the royal initials in Chinese style"; the twelfth is "lai luk mai aksorn phra nam (royal initials lace)."

"H.R.H. Prince Damrong Rajanubhab assumed that the tea sets of King Rama V were ordered twice, the first set by the royal command to be distributed to the nobles and various countries and the second by Phraya Choduk Rajsetthi (Huak) by royal permission. Items of the first set have the mark of the year on the bases. Since this set was for royal distribution, purchase or sale was not possible. Items of the second set bear the Chinese characters Kim Teng Huak Ki (Jin Tang Fa Ji)."

"H.R.H. Prince Damrong Rajanubhab said in his book A History of Ceramics and Pottery that not only the tea sets but a set of Chinese trays, a pair of Thai-style miniature jars, a pair of sets of Thai teacups, a set of small Vietnamese teacups, a bottle with saucer for cold water, a cup with a saucer for cold water, a large and small bowl to contain the tea residue, an ewer and a large and a small spittoon had been ordered."

This may be one of the bottles for cold water, minus its original saucer. This and the tea caddy bear the hallmarks Jin Tang Fa Ji and so were made as part of the second order. I had understood the four-character mark to be that of a Chinese workshop, but seemingly it means "Made to the order of the Brocade Hall (Thai royal court?)."

Pariwat Thammapreechakorn, Lertrit Sawang, and Kritsada Pinsri. 1996. Sinlapa khrư̄ang thûai nai Prathēt Thai (Ceramic Art in Thailand). 2nd ed. Bangkok: Ostospa Co. Ltd.

4. (Louise Cort, 14 February 2005) Dr. Supapan Seraphin, a chemist at Arizona State University, explained that the monogram, although appearing to include the Arabic numeral "5", is made up of the Thai syllables cho, po, and ro, the consonants used (with elaborations to indicate vowel sounds) to write "Chulalongkorn." The "5" is the syllable "ro." This explanation clarifies the meaning of "the abbreviation of the king's royal title, Cho Po Ro" noted above in comment 3.

5. (Louise Cort, 16 April 2012) The University of Michigan Museum of Art owns a bottle of this same shape but with a different scheme of decoration incorporating another version of the Rama V monogram. Like the Freer bottle, it was acquired from the Doris Duke collection.

Concerning the decor on that water bottle, Pariwat Thammapreechakorn wrote: "I think it is one of the best and the most beautiful blue and white carafe as far as I've ever seen.... Its body is painted with lai ka pae ho (a motif of Thai ancient two coins with a bat and ribbon) alternated with lai yi khot (a motif of narrowed Rama V monogram) and separated by a band of horizontal flower scroll and a band of horizontally arranged pommegranate. I guess its lower body near the foot may be painted with gold fish among water plant design. Its stopper is embellished with the same design. Both lai ka pae ho and lai yi khot are two of eleven motifs that were created for tea sets in the "King Rama V monogram" style by M.C. Pravij Jumsai in 1888. The words "lai ka pae ho" and "lai yi khot" are in mixture of Thai and Chinese Chaozhou."

6. (Louise Cort, 19 April 2012) Pariwat wrote further: "It was said in the book tamnan reuang khreuang thou lae thou pan (A History of Tableware and Pottery), written by H.R.H. Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, a son of King Rama IV that King Rama V ordered someone to create 10 motifs from his monogram by drawing up a Chinese style in 1888. There are several of the typographical errors in this book, especially its number. I have tried to count all motifs as its list serveral times, but I can count up to 11 motifs including:

1. Lai yi yao (a motif of long character)
2. Lai yi son (a motif of overlapped character)
3. Lai yi khot (a motif of curve character)
4. Lai yi khat (a motif of latched character)
5. Lai yi khot khat (a motif of latched and narrowed character)
6. Lai yi siam (a motif of Thai character “Siam”)
7. Lai ka pae (a motif of royal monogram in ancient coin style)
8. Lai ka pae ho (a motif of two ancient Thai coins with a bat)
9. Lai ho khreung mong kol (a motif of auspicious things)
10. Lai luk mai khang khao (a motif of some fruits (peach, Buddha citron or pomegranate with bats)
11. Lai luk mai aksorn phra nam (a motif of some fruits (peach, Buddha citron or pomegranate with royal monogram in many styles)

From the study later, it is generally believed that that artist may be M.C. (or H.H.Prince) Pravij Jumsai, a cousin of King Rama V and a nephew of King Rama III, a famous artist who created the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Siam during the reign of King Rama V. (I was wrong in previous email, please edit it, not Prawat Chumsai)."

According to Pariwat, this bottle bears the design known as lai luk mai aksorn phra nam (a motif of some fruits--peach, Buddha citron or pomegranate--with royal monogram in many styles) in yi son style.

7. (Louise Cort, 29 October 2014) Further information about porcelain made in Jingdezhen for the Thai market is given in Pimpraphai (2014).

A bottle of this shape appears in a set of porcelain vessels described as a "Chinese tea service for visiting monks" (p. 113, fig. 26). The set also includes two large and four small tea cups set in a matching brass tray, a hot water pot, a spittoon, a cold water cup, and the bottle, described as a cold water ewer.

The four-character mark that appears on the base of this bottle is said to read (in Teochow dialect) "Kim Tung Huad Kee" (Mandarin "Jin Tang Fa Ji"), and to have been the brand mark used by a Bangkok-based Chinese merchant, Li Fa Zhou, after he became head of the family business circa 1879 (p. 114). After King Mongkut stopped sending trading missions to China in 1853, orders for Chinese porcelain were handled not by the Siamese state trading monopoly but by such merchants working on behalf of the king (p. 110). Li Fa Zhou is said to have been a favorite of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who conferred on him the official title Phraya Bariboon Kosakorn. When the king ordered tea sets bearing his monogram, Jor Por Ror, to welcome monks performing religious ceremonies in the palace, he assigned Phraya Baribook Kosakorn the responsibility of ordering he sets from China. "All of these pieces in these sets had a royal reign mark on the bottom [see p. 115, fig. 28] and the date equivalent to 1888 written in Thai script" (p. 114).

"King Chulalongkorn's blue and white monogram tea sets were so admired in Bangkok that Phraya Bariboon Kosakorn placed another order with the same motifs, but this time without seeking royal approval. The second lot of Jor Por Ror blue and white porcelain thus bore the mark of Jin Tang Fa Ji, instead of the reign mark and date that had been included in the original order. The king was reportedly displeased, and the goods were confiscated and stored at the Tax Office warehouse until the late 20th century" (p. 114). Seemingly this bottle is from that group.

Pimpraphai Bisalputra. 2014. Chinese blue and white ceramics with Siamese motifs: A personal and social history. Arts of Asia vol. 44, no. 5 (September-October), pp. 104-116.


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