Gourd-shaped bottle in the form of a bearded ascetic holding a lotus

  • Stoneware with iron glaze
  • 18.5 x 14.4 cm
  • 1075-1430, Angkor period
  • Origin: Cambodia or Northeast Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge
  • S1996.108


Gourd-shaped bottle with head and arms of a bearded male worshipper holding a lotus bud (neck missing). Thinly thrown on fast potter's wheel from coil added to flat disk, possibly with additional clay added as coil at upper edge of "body" to throw "head" and bottle neck. Base smooth, slightly concave. Egg-shaped lower lobe tapers upward to widest diameter at "shoulders." "Head" formed as flattened hemisphere. Head and shoulder area broken and repaired with black tar-like substance.
Clay: fine-grained stoneware clay, light gray on surface in interior of bottle, light gray with minute black specks and larger patches of rust-brown on outer surface formerly glazed, red-orange where abraded on base. One large pebble imbedded in clay in interior near base, another on base.
Decoration: incised and applied.
Trimmed rounded edge of foot beneath wide bevel, the upper half of which was trimmed away in a broad cut, leaving a roughened surface visible in raking light and creating an undercut area beneath the incised upper edge of the bevel.
On the torso, navel represented by indentation and vertical indentation corresponding to "spine." Thick arms and hands applied in relief, incised details of fingers (four incised lines creating fine "fingers"). Wide bracelet incised on each wrist. Right hand positioned above left, holding lotus bud (conical bud with incised cross-hatching representing petals, stem protruding below hands). Two deep horizontal lines incised around "neck."
On the head, large ears applied in relief, incised details, with long pointed earrings resting on "shoulders." Hair indicated by widely-spaced, parallel straight lines incised around back of head between ears, ending at "neck." Facial features applied in relief: arching eyebrows with incised hatching; almond shaped eyes with incised horizontal lines appearing to indicate closed lids; long nose with impressed nostrils; closed lips upturned in smile; goatee with incised details of hair extending from lower lip onto chect beneath clasped hands.
Just above the eyebrowns, two incised horizontal lines formed a flattened flange at base of bottle neck, around which was applied a flattened coil with impressed diangonal lines. Only a fragment remains. Neck broken off in irregular fracture.
Glaze: iron glaze, ranging from translucent amber on upward-facing surfaces to opaque dark brown or black where running or pooled. Extensive glaze loss, especially on raised surfaces of front of figure, over almost all of back, and around entire foot below bevel. Surviving glaze is densely crackled, and glaze has broken off along crackles. Glaze thickly pooled in flange above base; one surviving patch and stains in bare clay suggest that glaze formerly ran down nearly to edge of base all around the bottle.

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.

Curatorial Remarks

1.  (Victor  Hauge, November 1996) Ovoid vessel with human face and arms in relief grasping a ritual object.  Buff clay body under the peeling brown glaze. Restored.

2.  (Louise Cort, 18 January 1999) A vessel with a bearded male face with similar expression, and in similar condition, with peeling dark brown glaze and neck broken off just above the ridged "crown" (height 24.5 cm.) is illustrated in Roxanna M. Brown, "Khmer Ceramics," Arts of Asia May–June 1973.  Brown describes this as an "Angkor Wat" jar, by which she implies a date of 1100–1177, the period of the building of Angkor Wat. She illustrates the same vessel in The Ceramics of South-East Asia; Their Dating and Identification (1988), pl. 28c, where she clarifies that the piece, in the collection of the Conservation d'Angkor, was excavated from the Srah Srang burial site and was dated to the late twelfth century by the French archaeologist Bernard Philippe Groslier.  The bearded figure is not holding anything in his hands.

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

3.  (Louise Cort, 9 June 1999) The vessel from Srah Srang—the same one illustrated in Brown, cited above—is illustrated in Groslier 1966 (fig. 144), a book I was shown in the Library of the National Museum, Phnom Penh; it was described as an "anthropomorphic vase, used as a cinerary urn."  According to Groslier, this was the sole example of this type of bottle found at the Srah Srang site (Groslier 1981, 29).  He dated it to the twelfth century "by its glaze" (ibid.)

Groslier, Bernard P. 1966. Indochine. Paris and Geneva: Nagel.

Groslier, Bernard Philippe. 1981. "Introduction to the Ceramic Wares of Angkor". Pp. 9–39 in Khmer Ceramics 9th–14th Century, edited by Diana Stock. Singapore: Oriental Ceramics Society.

4.  (Louise Cort, 9 June 1999) Bearded male figures in Khmer stone sculpture and architectural elements on view in the National Museum, Phnom Penh, were identified as ascetics.  Such a figure on a pediment from the Buddhist temple-mountain of the Bayon, late 12th–early 13th century (registration numbers C 109/C 32.1/1692) held a rosary of beads in his upraised right hand and wore earrings in his elongated ear lobes, a neckland of beads, and an armlet on his upper arm; he seemed to wear a cap or crown indicated by a band above his forehead filled with hatching.  His eyes were closed.

A figure of an "ascetic in prayer" carved in low relief at the base of a square pillar in one of the covered passages in Angkor Wat shows a bearded man seated with knees raised and hands folded against his chest, fingers pointing up (Groslier and Arthaud 1966, pl. 50).  He wears a shawl with the middle section around his back, the pieces crossing over his chest, and the patterned ends thrown over his shoulders; he also wears a crown with an ornamental knob and floral-patterned cap, heavy earrings, a necklace, and elaborate armlets (is "ascetic" the right term for someone so dressed?); he appears to have some sort of "caste mark" painted on his forehead.  His eyes appear to be closed (i.e., without pupils), although they are represented by an upper line shaped like a shallow inverted V and a lower curved line.

Groslier, Bernard Philippe, and Jacques Arthaud. 1966. Angkor: Art and Civilization. New York: Praeger.  

5.  (Louise Cort, 11 June 1999) The representation of the face on the ceramic vessels—prominent eyebrows, bulging eyes with both lids outlined, straight nose, full lips, elongated ear lobes, horizontal creases around the neck—reflects the rendering of a face on a bronze torso of a woman in the National Museum, Bangkok (Cœdès 1928, pl. XXIII, h. 35 cm.).  This piece of unknown origin seems to represent a somewhat folkish level of metal working.

Cœdès, George. 1928. "Les collections archéologiques du Musée National de Bangkok." Ars Asiatica XII: 1–36, Planche VII.

6.  (Louise Cort, 22 June 1999) A bas relief sculpture on a door frame from a building on Phnom Rung, Buriram Province, circa 12th century AD, said to depict purnadhanya, "a fertility rite," includes a standing bearded man offering something in his hands (a garland?  the stone is worn) to a standing female divinity (Srisuchat and Srisuchat 1989, fig. 1).  The man wears a ring-shaped diadem, above which his knotted hair projects as a tall cylinder.  Presumably the long bottle neck of vessels such as this completed the representation of such a bearded worshipper.

Tharapong Srisuchat, and Amara Srisuchat. 1989. "Introducing Buriram Ceramics and Kilns." Sinlapākǭn (The Silpakorn Journal) 33(2): 52–55.

7.  (Louise Cort, 19 July 1999) A figure of an ascetic at prayer from Preah Ko (in Rolous), ninth century, is discussed in Boisselier 1989 (fig. IX).  The figure is associated with Shiva by his knotted hair.

The presence of ascetics in the pre-Angkor period court is discussed in O. W. Wolters 1979, 431–33.  Inscriptions particularly extol asceticism in honor of Shiva.  Ascetics were put in charge of temples and land was granted to them.  The Pasupatas were the foremost sect of ascetics and are mentioned in connections with various Khmer overlords.  Wolters conjures them as "startling ascetics, covered with ashes" (ibid., 433).  They took on the role of the guru (teacher) at court, instructing the overlord in the proper worship if Shiva.

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

Wolters, O. W. 1979. "Khmer 'Hinduism' in the Seventh Century". Pp. 427–442 in Early South East Asia, edited by R. B. Smith and W. Watson. New York: Oxford University Press.

8.  (Louise Cort, 10 July 2002) According to Mrs. Tran Thi Thanh Dao, Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, a jar of this type was caught by net from the bottom of the Dong Nai River and brought to the museum. The river bottom yields various sorts of materials, including "Oc Eo" pieces and grinding stones.

9.  (Louise Cort, 14 September 2010) A brown-glazed bottle of this type, representing a man with textured mustache and beard, palms together (holding nothing), with the neck broken off, was on view in the Roi Et National Museum, northeast Thailand, as of early 2008. The exhibition label stated that it had been found in Roi Et Province.

10.  (Louise Cort, 3 November 2011) According to Pariwat Thammapreechakorn, brown-glazed vessels of this type date to the Bayon era (late 12th–early 13th century) and are recovered from temple sites in Northeast Thailand.

11. (Louise Cort, 16 January 2017) Changed Date from 12th century to 1075-1430, following Desbat's revised chronology based on excavations in the Angkor area over the past two decades (Desbat 2011, 26). Evidence for excavated anthropomophic vessels is based on the single Srah Srang piece, but Desbat proposes that their dating corresponds to that for two-color glazing, centering on the 12th-13th centuries (Desbat 22-23).

Armand Desbat. 2011. Pour une revision de la chronologie des gres khmers. Aseanie 27 (juin), 11-34.

field notes

Submit Comment 0 comments total

No field notes found.

main image

View larger image [1045KB] > >

sample thumbnailsample thumbnail