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

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Ewer in the form of two human figures

  • Stoneware with iron glaze
  • 30.5 x 19.5 x 19.6 cm
  • 12th-15th century, Angkor period or later
  • Origin: Cambodia or Northeast Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge
  • S1996.107a-b


Vessel in form of two human figures, seated back-to-back, holding lotus blossoms (one of which is a spout).

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, 208–211.

2. Lentz, Thomas W. 1997. The First Ten Years, the Next Ten Years: The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Oriental Art XLIII (3):5, fig. 6 (color illus).

3. Cort, Louise Allison, Massumeh Farhad, and Ann C. Gunter. 2000. Asian Traditions in Clay: The Hauge Gifts. Washington, D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 147 (illus.) and no. 83.

4. Cort, Louise Allison (translated by Tabata Yukitsugu). 2002. Kumeeru tōki—Hauge korekushon wo chūshin to shita Kumeeru tōki no kenkyū. Tōnan Ajia kōkogaku [Journal of Southeast Asian Archaeology] (Journal of the Japan Society of Southeast Asian Archaeology) 22: 167, cat. no. 83.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Victor  Hauge, November 1996) Large brown-glazed anthropomorphic vessel, with two heads facing in opposite directions, the molded arms on each side grasping lotus buds, one of which is topped for a hole (pouring spout?). An opening above the head is covered by a tall ringed lid.

2. (Louise A. Cort, August 1997, Exhibition Label, "Arts of Cambodia") Applied and incised details transform these gourd-shaped vessels into human figures in attitudes of worship.  The back-to-back figures on one bottle hold up lotus blossoms, while the hands of the single figure are folded in greeting or prayer. Numerous anthropomorphic vessels are found among Khmer ceramics, although their use is not known.  Similar objects were excavated from a burial site in Angkor.

3. (Louise Cort, 1 June 1999) A comparable zoomorphic spouted vessel is a bottle in the form of a monkey, with dark brown glaze, in the collection of the Bangkok National Museum (Natthaphat 1989, 81, h. 23.5 cm; Rooney 1984, no. 48, h. 26 cm).  It is approximately the same height as the Sackler vessel; like the Sackler vessel its neck (presumably an elongated bottle neck) was broken off (and perhaps ground down to the shoulder).  The monkey, sitting upright, holds its front paws together on its chest.  The spout opening, between its paws, has been ground down (because of a broken spout?), so the original form of the spout is not clear.  Like the human figures on the Sackler vessel, the monkey is adorned with jewelry.  It has a double-strand necklace of applied "beads," a bracelet incised on each wrist, and a "belt" of applied "beads" low around its barrel-shaped torso.  It sits on a circular flat base, with two sculpted feet applied to the front of the base.

Natthaphat Čhanthawit et al. 1989. Khrư̄ang thūai čhāk lǣng taophao Čhangwat Burīram (Ancient kiln sites in Buriram Province). Bangkok: Krom Sinlapākǭn (Fine Arts Department).

Rooney, Dawn. 1984. Khmer Ceramics. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press.  

4. (Louise Cort, 2 June 1999) The seated postures of these two figures, with legs flat on the ground, knees bent, and feet turned to the right (in the case of the figure with open lotus-bud spout) or left (the figure holding the closed lotus bud), are the standard way of sitting for a worshipper in a Thai Theravada Buddhist monastery today.  The hands are usually held pressed palm to palm in front of the chest.  A comparable pose is found in the 15th–16th century wooden sculpture of a worshipper in the National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh (Jessup and Zephir eds. 1997, no. 117).  The entry by Son Soubert notes that the seated posture of this image is "an innovation specific to the post-Angkor period, at least as an iconographic convention to express meditation, prayer, or humble homage to a divinity or cult object" and specifies a Theravada Buddhist context for the image (ibid., 345).
The ornamentation of this vessel features impressions made with a round stamp edged with small short cuts ringing the edge, creating a motif like an open, full-faced flower.  This stamp was impressed on the cheeks of both faces, as the navels, at the elbows, as the central "jewel" in the double-strand necklaces, and in the diamond-shaped areas on the sides of the figures that outline the upper arms and might be interpreted as portions of costume textiles.  Possibly this type of floral patterning might be related to the incised floral motifs—evenly and widely spaced round flower heads—on the garments of stone figures of the Angkor period in the style of the Bayon, dating to the late 12th–early 13th century (Jessup and Zephir 1997, nos. 92,  93, 107). 
The open flower motifs appear on the jewelry and also around the plinth of a stone elephant from the pyramid of Preah Damrei, Angkor, in the style of the Bayon, late 12th–early 13th century (Jessup and Zephir 1997, no. 84).  In the entry, Thierry Zephir specifies that this form of open flower appears first in the style of the Bayon, replacing the earlier style of Angkor Wat in which jewelry is "decorated with a series of juxtaposed ropelike petals" (ibid., 286).  The flowers on the plinth, in particular, have petals rendered by straight lines radiating out beyond a central circle.  The stamp used on this vessel could well be a simplified variant of such floral motifs.   
On ceramics, this sort of stamped motif appears notably on the heads and saddle blankets of various elephant-shaped ceramic vessels (e.g. Natthaphat 1989, 60 [said to have been found in a hilltop burial in Tak Province; Chinese ceramics found in these burials were predominantly Yuan and later] and 80 [Bangkok National Museum]).
All this evidence seems to point to a date for the Sackler vessel of late 12th–early 13th century at the earliest.
The stone figures mentioned above include both Buddhist (92, 93) and Hindu (107) female figures.  The Bayon period, covering the years of Jayavarman VII's reign, saw a new state religion, a variant of Mahayana Buddhism, established in the new capital of Angkor Thom (Jessup and Zephir 1997, 306).  Discussing the same figures, Boisselier points out that the predominant Mahayana cult affected "the whole of the contemporaneous statuary," including Brahmanic, so that the figure of Lakshmi is distinguished only by the two lotus buds she holds, the absence of a Buddha image in her hair, and her open eyes, in contrast to the closed or half-closed eyes of Buddhist image (Boisselier 1989, 95).  The eyes of the other anthropomorphic vessels (S1996.108–111) seem clearly rendered as closed.  The eyes of this vessel are harder to interpret:  they appear open, but no pupil is indicated.  
Boisselier associates the long, flower-patterned lower garments particularly with female figures (Boisselier 1989, 92). Thus this vessel may represent two women seated back to back.  If they are meant to be Buddhist worshippers, then the vessel may have functioned as a pouring vessel for lustral water.  An important part of Theravada Buddhist ritual today is the pouring of water for the sake of departed souls.

Jessup, Helen Ibbitsun, and Thierry Zephir, eds. 1997. Sculpture of Angkor and ancient Cambodia : millennium of glory. Washington: National Gallery of Art.   

Natthaphat Čhanthawit et al. 1989. Khrư̄ang thūai čhāk ng taophao Čhangwat Burīram (Ancient kiln sites in Buriram Province). Bangkok: Krom Sinlapān (Fine Arts Department).

Boisselier, Jean. 1989. Trends in Khmer Art. Translated by Natasha Eilenberg and Melvin Elliott. Ithaca: Cornell University.  

5. (Louise Cort, 11 June 1999) A fragment of the upper lobe and neck of a large gourd-shaped anthropomorphic bottle with two faces, back to back, bearing lustrous, dark brown glaze, is in the Museum of Southeast Asian Ceramics, Kyoto, the collection of Fujiwara Hiroshi. I saw this piece during my visit to the museum in May, 1997. The faces appear to be male:  they have beaked noses, open eyes incised with realistic details, including pupils and eyelashes, applied and ridged eyebrows, an incised wavy "cult mark" on the forehead, an applied mouth, applied ears with lobes weighted by large earrings, and incised details of a moustache and goatee.  Hair is incised between the ears of the opposed faces.  Above the face is an incised band with hatching, above which is a band of applied bosses with stamped details.  The neck of the bottle bears incised cross-hatching.  The form of the "cult mark" bears a close resemblance to the double wavy lines above the navel of the Hauge figure.

6. (Louise Cort, 11 June 1999) A gourd-shaped anthropomorphic bottle with two-color glazing, depicting a person holding a pouring spout, is in the Nakamura Collection, Machida City Museum, Tokyo (Machida Shiritsu Hakubutsukan 1995, no. 67, h. 26.8 cm).  The figure also bears an applied "cult mark" on the forehead.

Machida Shiritsu Hakubutsukan (Machida City Museum). 1995. Kumeeru no yakimono [Khmer ceramics]. Machida Shiritsu Hakubutsukan zuroku 93. Machida: Machida Shiritsu Hakubutsukan.  

7. (Louise Cort, 21 June 1999) Boisselier (1966, 234) notes that "with the Bayon style appears, for female images, a kneeling posture conserved by post-Angkorean praying figures until the 17th century at least (Udong: praying figures of Vat Tep Pranam with the legs arranged laterally, in an attitude of humility, Pl. XXXIX, 4)."  The figure he shows in Pl. XXXIX is seated with legs to the side.  It is unclear how much earlier he found this posture to appear at Khmer sites.

Boisselier, Jean. 1966. Le Cambodge. Paris: Picard.  

8. (Louise Cort, 10 August 1999) Could this be a product of a post-Angkor period kiln?  A small glazed figurine of a woman seated with right knee drawn up and left leg bent flat in front of her body reportedly found at the Ban Tao Hai kiln site north of the city of Phitsanulok, in Thailand, bears stamped round "flower motifs" schematically over the torso, upper right arm, and legs (the head and rest of the arms are missing), with emphasis on the vertical midline of the torso and legs, and the joints (Hein and Prachote 1985, photo 4b, and fig. 16).

The radiomagnetic and paleomagnetic results for the Ban Tao Hai kiln site both yielded dates centered in the mid–14th century (ibid, 101).

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, 7 November 1999) John Guy, visiting the Sackler Gallery in September this year, urged "great caution" in dealing with this object.
When I met with Sugiyama Hiroshi at the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties on 26 October, and discussed this object (which he saw in November, 1997), he mentioned seeing, in 1994, a number of similar objects kept in the Phimai National Museum after they had been seized by police from a man in Chiang Mai who specialized in assembling "anthropomorphic" Khmer objects from sherds.  Sugiyama also mentioned that Fujiwara Hiroshi is concerned about the authenticity of the similar pieces in his collection in Kyoto.

10. (Louise Cort, 24 October 2000) Thermoluminescence analysis of the piece by Oxford Authentication Ltd. in September (see conservation report) established that it had last been fired between 500 and 900 years ago (i.e. circa 1100–1500, 12th–15th

11. (Louise Cort, 30 January 2001) Response from Dr. Hiram Woodward, Curator of Asian Art, Walters Art Museum, to my query of his opinion about this piece:  "You are surely right that it is not earlier than late 12th century.  I'd be more inclined to 13th than 14th, but who knows?  There is a 13th-century figure proffering a lotus in the National Museum, Phnom Penh (Woodward 1994–1995, 109); I didn't make it clear that I think Jayavarman VII is listening to a prediction concerning his future enlightenment.  Regarding the position of the feet in the kneeling figure—just how exactly they are tucked in:  the evidence of the Terrace D pediment, Phnom Penh [C32.2], late 13th or 14th century, is ambiguous, but at any rate it is not up on its toes.
Regarding the function of this piece: I presume that the lotus with the hole does not open into the body (you don't say it does) and so the vessel cannot function as a water dropper (use it to sprinkle water on a corpse?). Whether objects like this could ever have served as burial urns awaits (to my knowledge) archaeological confirmation. As would placement around a religious foundation, but just with water offering. You could also appease a territorial spirit with such an object."

Woodward, Hiram. 1994–1995. "The Jayabuddhamahanatha Images." Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 52–53: 105–111.

12. (Louise Cort, 8 January 2007) Changed Period from Angkor period to Angkor period or later; changed Date from 12th century or later to 12th–15th century, to reflect the finding of the TL testing and the direction of research on this object. Changed Geography from Thailand, Buriram province to Cambodia or Thailand. This could prove to be a product of one of the recently discovered later kilns making brown-glazed wares in Cambodia.

13. (Louise Cort, 25 January 2017) In Title, changed Vessel to Ewer.

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