Bird-shaped ewer; neck and lid added later

  • Stoneware with iron pigment under wood-ash glaze
  • 29.7 x 17.2 x 17 cm
  • 1075-1250, Angkor period
  • Origin: Cambodia or Northeast Thailand
  • Gift of Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S1996.186

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) A large bird vessel with elongated beaked spout, stippled wings and flared tail, in straw-colored glaze. A green-glazed tall cylindrical neck is a later addition.

2. (Victor Hauge, letter to Louise Cort, 17 November 1996) Incidentally, the pale green gukking up on [S1996.186] is the way it came—none of my doing. There are other bad repairs I had no time to improve.

3. (Louise Cort, 7 June 1999) The bird head may represent a garuda (cf. S1996.174).

4. (Louise Cort, 10 June 1999) Generally speaking, the use of incised bands filled with parallel hatching, usually on the diagonal, to outline elements of the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic vessels, or to ornament the surfaces, is derived from the same sort of band used on lost-wax bronze sculptures.
The use of light green glaze with brown accents over the bands of hatched decor link S1996.186 and S1997.133. Smaller vessels, S1996.169 and S1996.170, use this type of hatched band and also have brown accents, notably to the eyes. These common traits indeed raise the question why the similar vessel, S1996.174, has no brown accents. S1996.107 is also linked to this group by its use of bands of hatched detailing on an anthropomorphic figure, even thought the overall glaze is brown rather than pale green.
A number of extant objects in other collections throw light on these pieces. The National Museum, Phnom Penh, owns a "fragment of a large vase" (acc. no. H 84 or H 441.2), 9.2 cm long, that registration records show was collected from the Groupe d'Angkor in November, 1921 by the Conservation d'Angkor.  It is published in Groslier 1931, pl. 49(2). The piece was on view in the museum gallery in 1997 and 1999. The squarish sherd bears a hand-modeled relief figure of a horse prancing or galloping to the proper left with a rider on its back, gripping the reins with his left hand and raising his right over his head (which is lost), with both feet handing down below the horse's belly. Hatching is used to fill the outlines of the rider's loincloth, of the reins, and of a cord around the horse's neck, holding a bell. Notably, the piece is glazed with pale green glaze, to which some debris adheres, but has no brown accents.
This type of hatched band ornamentation appears notably on a group of elephant-shaped vessels glazed in pale green glaze with brown accents on the bands and elsewhere. The key to authenticating these elephants might be the caparisoned elephant in the National Museum, Phnom Penh (Groslier 1966, pl. 138; Guy 1989, pl. 7, h. 19 cm). Bernard Groslier believed this "the most beautiful Khmer ceramic piece I have ever had the opportunity to seductive by its glazing as by its form" (Groslier 1981, 29).  Unfortunately the National Museum record shows only that the piece was accessioned in October, 1932, and has no information about provenance. One needs to maintain awareness of the French activities in Indochina at art schools and pottery workshops (e.g. the kilns north of Saigon) in developing modern commercial ceramics based on traditional motifs. (I have recently seen an elegant black-glazed vase with Angkorian motifs carved in relief, probably a product of the 1930s.) The National Museum elephant is unusual with regard to the elaborate and meticulous detail of the ornamentation, the posture (with back legs shorter than front, creating a dynamic position), and the realistic rendering of the feet complete with toes, a detail not seen on any other such figures. 
Other elephants of this type are illustrated in Rooney 1984, pl. 25, h 17 cm; Fujiwara 1990, pl. 90, h. 17.8 cm; Pariwat 1996, 245, pl. 1, h. 31.0 cm.  The last figure, of unusual size, also bears applied human figures around the body, including miniature Khmer ceramics, and a three-dimensional mahout behind the elephant's head.

Groslier, George. 1931. Les collections Khmères du Musée Albert Surrat à Phnom-Penh. Ars Asiatica, Vol. 16. Paris and Bruxelles: G. Van Oest.

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

Guy, John. 1989. Ceramic Traditions of South–East Asia. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

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.

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

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

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

5. (Louise Cort, 8 June 1999) A bird-head spout similar in profile to the one on this vessel and held in a similar upright position appears on the shoulder of a vessel that is quite different—a pedestal-foot long-necked jar—illustrated (as a measured drawing) in an article on the Khmer site of Ban Sawai in Surin Province (Brown et al. 1974, 249, fig. 9). The jar is shown as approximately 45 cm H and described as a "reconstruction." The article mentions surface finds collected by the authors, who attempted to reconstruct them (ibid., 239). The color of the glaze (or glazes) is not indicated on the drawing. Thus the true relationship of the spout to the jar is ambiguous, but its find in the area is undisputed.    
The article related that finds from Ban Sawai, 15 kilometers south of Surin City, began to appear in the market in Bangkok in the spring of 1973. It proposed Ban Sawai as a "kiln site," citing the kiln wasters and chunks of fired laterite clay laterite found together with the ceramic vessels.  Subsequently, however, the site was redefined as a use site, from which many largely-intact pieces entered the market in 1974–75 then eventually ceased (Brown 1988, 45).

Brown, Roxanna, Vance Childress, and Michael Gluckman. 1974. "A Khmer kiln site—Surin province." The Journal of the Siam Society 62(2): 240–250.

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

6. (Louise Cort, 11 June 1999) A spout with a beaked bird head on a curving neck, apparently detached from the shoulder of a ewer, with a degraded light brown glaze, is in the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum, Kyoto (Toyama Bijutsukan ed. 1996, no. 34, l. 13.0 cm).
An animal-shaped spout with degraded brown glaze, modeled with the trunk of an elephant and a birdlike comb, with applied eyes and features defined by incising, is identified as probably the mythical animal called kotchasi (Rooney 1984, no. 32, l. 11.0 cm).

Toyama Bijutsukan (Toyama Art Museum), ed. 1996. Kamratan korekushon Tōnan Ajia kotōji ten III (Southeast Asian ceramics from the Kamratan collection III). Toyama: Toyama Bijutsukan.

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

7. (Louise Cort, 16 June 1999) A black-glazed spout with a beaked bird head (described as a chicken) was found at the Muang Phai kiln site in Krasang District, Buriram Province (Natthaphat 1989, 66).

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

8. (Louise Cort, 24 June 1999) A Khmer bronze ewer with lid and with bird head on the end of the spout was shown by Doris Weiner Gallery at the 1998 Asian Art Fair in New York.

9. (Louise Cort, 19 July 1999) A bronze conch shell bearing a figure identified as Dancing Shiva also has a tip in the form of a bird head. The bird has a long, downward-curving beak (Cœdès 1923, pl. XXXVI-2). This specific association of the bird-spouted conch-shaped lustration vessel may be a clue to the usage of the bird-spouted ewer.

Cœdès, George. 1923. Bronzes Khmers. Ars Asiatica. Paris and Bruxelles: G. Van Oest.

10. (Louise Cort, 30 April 2001), (Note added to S1996.155) The V-shaped line incised around the upright spout of this vessel (S1996.155) probably indicates a detail of a seam in the metal prototype for such a ewer.  A similar line appears around the base of a bird-headed spout on a pedestal-footed ewer represented in a stone relief of Brahma, from central Java, that belong to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M2000.30). The ewer represented in the Javanese relief is presumably metal. It appears at the based of the deity's throne, alongside a pedestal-footed incense burner (cf. S1996.164). The ewer and the incense burner presumably represent a standard set of ritual objects.

11. (Louise Cort, 28 December 2004) Changed Title from Bird-shaped vessel with spout to Bird-shaped vessel with spout; neck and lid added later.

12. (Louise Cort, 16 January 2017) Changed Date from 11th-13th century to 1075-1250, following Desbat's revised chronology based on excavations in the Angkor area over the past two decades (Desbat 2011, 26). Evidence for green-glazed Buriram-type bowls (distinguished by the formation of the base) at Angkor-area sites begins in the late 12th century but may date to the beginning of the 12th century, coinciding with the end of production of green-glazed "Kulen" wares in the Angkor area (Desbat 2011, 15-16).

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

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