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

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Pouring vessel in the form of a caparisoned elephant, with a spout on the shoulder

  • Stoneware with iron glaze
  • 24.6 x 20.8 x 25.2 cm
  • 1100-1300, Angkor period
  • Origin: Cambodia or Northeast Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge
  • S1996.124a-b


The lid in the shape of a "mahout" probably does not belong to the object.

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. 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, 148 (illus.), no. 76.

3. 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: 166, cat. no. 76.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Victor Hauge, November 1996) A brown-glazed vessel in the form of a caparisoned elephant. Short spout on right shoulder.

2. (Louise Cort, 18 January 1999) A spherical bottle in the form of a caparisoned elephant (height 21.0 cm.), with spout on the proper left shoulder encircled by the elephant's trunk, flanged bottle mouth on the back, and flat base, with iron glaze, is said to have come from a kiln site in Buriram and is now in the National Museum, Bangkok (Natthaphat 1989, 50). The incised and relief decor follows a similar format to the Sackler bottle, and the intact neck may suggest the original shape of the neck on the Sackler vessel.

Other brown-glazed elephant-shaped vessels in various sizes do not have spouts and appear to have been made for use in storing lime paste.  A four-legged brown-glazed bottle of the type described above (height 21.0 cm) has a much larger flanged mouth, probably for ease of access to the lime (Fujiwara 1990, pl. 91, dated 12th–13th century).
A small lime-paste jar in the form of an elephant with four legs (height 12.5 cm), said to come from the Ban Sawai kiln complex in Ban Kruat District, Buriram Province, is in the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University (possibly gift of Dean Frasché?) (Frasché 1976, no. 10).

A smaller lime-paste vessel in the form of a four-legged elephant (11.5 cm), with brown glaze except for a narrow strip of pale green glaze around the lower body, and fitted with a knobbed lid, was excavated by Bernard Philippe Groslier in 1964 from the Sras Srang burial site at Angkor.  The site was used circa 1080–1107 and again in the late 12th century, and a date of second half of the 11th century is given for this vessel, which belongs to the Conservation d'Angkor (Brown 1988, pl. XX-c).

A still smaller brown-glazed elephant-shaped lime-paste pot (6.7 cm) is in the Fujiwara Hiroshi collection, Kyoto (Fujiwara 1990, pl. 95).

The lid in the form of a human torso does not appear to belong to this vessel, judging from the marked difference in glaze condition, but it bears some resemblance to some small lids bearing human figures in the Fujiwara Hiroshi collection, Kyoto (Fujiwara 1990, pl. 130).  A stopper in the form of a human figure does appear on a four-legged brown-glazed elephant-shaped vessel in the same collection (ibid., pl. 96), but there is no way of knowing whether that stopper was added by a vendor.

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

Fujiwara Hiroshi. 1990. Kumeeru ōkoku no kotō (Khmer Ceramics from the Kamratan Collection). Singapore: Oxford University Press.

Frasché, Dean. 1976. Southeast Asian Ceramics Ninth through Seventeenth Centuries. New York: Asia Society.

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

Fujiwara Hiroshi. 1990. Kumeeru ōkoku no kotō (Khmer Ceramics from the Kamratan Collection). Singapore: Oxford University Press.

3. (Louise Cort, 4 June 1999) Other versions of these elephant vessels exist in pale green glaze with brown details.  Such a bottle in the National Museum of Cambodia (H 622, h. 22 cm, l. 23.5 cm), with four sculpted feet and bearing a spout on its proper left shoulder (the opposite side from the Sackler vessel), was purchased in 1932.  The existence of this documented piece helps confirm the authenticity of at least some such bottles.

4. (Louise Cort, 11 June 1999) The largest brown-glazed elephant bottle that I have seen so far is in the Southeast Asian Ceramic Museum, Kyoto, which I visited in May, 1997.  The vessel is a standard bottle, perhaps 30 cm high, with wide flanged rim and ornamented foot. Sculpted details of the elephant head, howdah rails, and tassels are applied to the shoulder of the bottle. A small human figure peers over the elephant's head.  Like all the brown-glazed elephants I have seen, it has round applied eyes.

5. (Louise Cort, 30 April 2001) A source for the Khmer potter's notion of "spherical pot as elephant" was suggested by a Khmer stone lintel (dated to the tenth century) in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.75.104), whose central image is Indra mounted on his elephant Airavata. The god and the elephant are seen frontally.  Indra—very large in proportion to the elephant—sits in a regal pose with his right arm resting on his raised right knee.  Airavata is depicted with a large head, a nearly circular body, and two extremely short front legs.  Its trunk bends and curls to the right. Jewelry adorns its head and garlands its neck.

6. (Louise Cort, 8 July 2003) A brown-glazed elephant-shaped vessel with four legs and otherwise seemingly similar to this work, except for a trunk that hangs nearly straight, with a curled tip, is in the Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, according to a photograph taken by Mrs. Elizabeth Lee Berger in Saigon circa 1869–1972.  It may be possible to assume that this work was acquired in the formerly Khmer region of the Mekong River Delta.

7. (Louise Cort, 27 June 2005) A large elephant-shaped vessel standing on four feet (h. 28 cm) appeared in An Important Collection of Southeast Asian Sculpture: The Property of a Private Japanese Collector, Jonathan Tucker and Antonia Tozer, London, spring 2005). The price was not given as the piece was already sold. The vessel has a large opening on the back framed by an everted bottle-type rim.  Reference is made to DiCrocco, Ringis, and National Museum Volunteers (Thailand) eds. 1995, fig. 89.

DiCrocco, James V., Rita Ringis, and National Museum Volunteers (Thailand), eds. 1995. Treasures from the National Museum, Bangkok: an introduction with 157 color photographs. Bangkok: the National Museum Volunteers.

8. (Louise Cort, 17 October 2007) Changed Title from Vessel to Pouring vessel.

9. (Louise Cort, 29 May 2008) Don Hein, in Washington to present the Pope Memorial Lecture, said that the lid that came with this vessel is not Sawankhalok ware, as I had suspected it might be.

10. (Louise Cort, 16 January 2017) Desbat's revised chronology based on excavations in the Angkor area over the past two decades gives the dates 1075-1430 for matte brown glaze. Evidence for zoomorphic vessels centers on the 12th-13th centuries, although Desbat proposes that their production probably continued into the 14th and 15th centuries (Desbat 19-21). He also associates the appearance of matte brown glaze with the late 12th century (Desbat 2011, 26).

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

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