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

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Bottle with four male faces above four female torsos with outstretched hands

  • Stoneware with iron pigment under wood-ash glaze
  • 23.5 x 16.2 cm
  • 1175-1250, Angkor period
  • Origin: Cambodia or Northeast Thailand
  • Gift of Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S1997.133a-b


Bottle with four male faces looking in the four cardinal directions, above four female torsos with outstretched hands

Published References

1. 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, 149 (illus.), no. 84.

2. Cort, Louise Allison (translated by Tabata Yukitsugu). 2002. "Kumeeru tōki—Hauge korekushon wo chūshin to shita Kumeeru tōki no kenkyū (Khmer ceramics—research on Khmer ceramics centering on the Hauge collection)." Tōnan Ajia kōkogaku [Journal of Southeast Asian Archaeology] (Journal of the Japan Society of Southeast Asian Archaeology) 22: 167, cat. no. 84.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 11 June 1999) The four male heads facing in the four directions from the shoulder of this vessel bring to mind most readily the giant faces gazing in the four directions above the gates in the wall surrounding Angkor Thom or the similar faces looking out from the towers of the Bayon, situated at the center of that city (Jessup and Zephir eds. 1997, 48, 278–79). Both the wall and the temple-mountain were built during the reign of Jayavarman VII (1181–1218), and the faces on the gates are sometimes interpreted as representations of the king. If they are taken as precise precedents for this vessel (rather than as manifestations of an iconography that might have extended further in time), then the vessel can date no earlier than the monuments. The religious association of the vessel, moreover, is specifically Mahayana Buddhist.
With regard to ceramic dating, Groslier proposed on the basis of ceramic finds from his excavations of sites in Angkor that two-color wares began in mid-11th century and discontinued during the time of Jayavarman VII (Brown 1988, 52–53). During Jayavarman VII's reign, he stated, the only "two-tone glaze" pieces were urns made specifically for burial of cremated human remains (Groslier 1981, 30). But Groslier placed—provisionally—anthropomorphic bottles at the beginning of his "Angkor Wat" period (c. 1110–c. 1177) (ibid., 29). 

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

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

2. (Louise Cort, 21 June 1999) There are also rare single images of Brahma, with four faces looking in the four directions (e.g. Jessup and Zephir 1997, no. 45, 2nd quarter of the 10th century). The figures of the apsaras beneath the four faces on the vessel are harder to explain in relation to this representation of a full—and Brahmanic—figure. 

A four-faced stone head of Brahma from Phnom Bok (first quarter 10th century), in the Musée Guimet, was published in Boisselier 1966, 2, pl. XXXIV, as well as more recently in Jessup and Zephir 1997, no. 37.  It is interesting in relation to this vessel in that
(1) whereas both the later Brahma and the heads on the Bayon wear heavy gold earrings in their elongated ear lobes, the lobes on this head of Brahma are empty, as they are on the heads on the ceramic vessel;
(2)  whereas the eyebrows of the Bayon heads seem to be shown as separate arches, those of both Brahma heads (as well as a number of other earlier statues in the 1997 publication) are shown as a single nearly straight bar stretching above the bridge of the nose;
(3) the full lips of the mouth on both Brahma heads are close beneath the nostrils, separated only by the thin moustache, whereas the lips on the Bayon heads are separated from the nose by a longer upper lip;
(4)  the Phnom Bok Brahma head in particular wears a narrow diadem topped by a row of triangular foliate projections separated from one another at the base, where they join the crown band, creating a distinct zigzag pattern, whereas the projections on the crowns of the Bayon heads are longer, more rectangular in form, and pressed close together.  (According to Jessup in Jessup and Thierry 1997, no. 33, this style of diadem first appears in the late 9th century.)

In short, the vessel seems to reflect the style of the earlier heads of Brahma rather than that of the Bayon heads. 
The Bayon towers are topped by flat "lotus" fittings. The Brahma heads have a high chignon of looped, braided hair within the diadem. One might expect this vessel to have had a long, narrow spout echoing the form of the chignon, but the finish of the rim appears to be original—it is glazed, but some glaze has worn off.

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

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

3. (Louise Cort, 21 June 1999) The four apsaras on this vessel wear diadems with three low, triangular or knoblike projections above the band.  These seem related to the headdress of a "female divinity" from Prasat Srange ("end of the Angkorian period") illustrated by Boisselier (Boisselier 1966, fig. 63a) and are quite unlike the three tall, pointed projections on the diadem of a devata from the Royal Terrace at Angkor Thom (ibid., fig. 63b). See also S1996.174.

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

4. (Louise Cort, 27 March 2000) According to a paper presented by Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting, a gold vessel with spout and long neck bearing four heads facing in the four cardinal directions was among the objects excavated from the center of the prang of Wat Ratchaburana in Ayutthaya. The wat was built circa 1424. The depositions included an array of sacred objects from various parts of Asia, including the Angkorian kingdom.  It is possible that this vessel was made by Khmer craftsmen, or that it was made in Ayutthaya by craftsmen continuing a Khmer vessel form. 

5. (Louise Cort, 24 October 2000)  Thermoluminescence analysis of this piece and the related object S1996.174, conducted by Oxford Authentication Ltd. in September this year (see Conservation report) showed that both pieces were last fired between 600 and 1000 years ago (i.e. 1000–1400 A.D.). 
The source of the iconography still puzzles me. In a lecture for the Smithsonian Associates on 21 October, Dr. Sarah Bekker illustrated protective images on the wall around Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat in Si Satchanalai that included both four faces looking in the four directions and apsaras with arms spread wide. The wat was rebuilt by the Thai on Khmer foundations.

6.(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 right that there is a kind of connection with the Bayon faces. Here intended to evoke a heavenly realm. So if this is a [burial] urn (no hard evidence), then it helps rebirth.  If for an offering, it helps sanctify it and give it a celestial aura.  The Wat Mahathat Chaliang gate (to which you refer) is surely that built by Ram Khamhaeng (hence late 13th century). For ideological links between this and the Bayon faces, see Woodward 1981, 66 note 53.

[In the text Woodward writes, "There is also a tradition of Brahma gates in Thailand--a tradition that may date back nearly to the time of Jayavarman VII." The note attached to this statement, 53, reads: "On the gate at Wat Mahathat, Chaliang, see A. B. Griswold, Towards a History of Sukhodaya Art (Bangkok, 1967), p. 11; fig. 9. The massive four-faced stone now at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum in Ayutthaya was originally part of a gate on the grounds of the royal palace. [Ref omitted here.] Perhaps the gate was called brahmasukuta (or brahmasugata): [ref. omitted here]. This gate is probably the one labeled on a nineteenth-century map of Ayutthaya as pratu phrom ("Brahma gate") [ref. omitted here]. There are gates with Brahma names in the royal palace in Bangkok (brahmasrivasti and brahmasobha): [ref omitted here]. The Tusitasasta gate in the royal palace is surmounted by a tower having a human face in each of the four directions.]

"I don't think Groslier's supposed archaeological dating amounts to much.  He had no idea what the actual dates of the associated Chinese shards were.  
"If the three little knobs are on top of the head, not part of the diadem, this is a 13th century trait."

Woodward, Hiram. 1981. "Tantric Buddhism at Angkor Thom." Ars Orientalis 12: 57–67.

Griswold, A. B. 1967. Towards a History of Sukhodaya Art. Bangkok: Krom Sinlapākǭn (Fine Arts Department).

7. (Louise Cort, 14 February 2002)  On view in the British Museum is a stone bust of a Khmer five-headed Avalokitesvara, dated twelfth century (OA 1933.4–7.1).  Four of the heads are on one level, facing in the four directions.  The fifth head is on top (corresponding to the lid of the Hauge bottle), directly centered above one of the four heads, and has a small Amitabha in its hair.  The five heads wear heavy dangling, pointed earrings and a pyramidal crown or crown-plus-hair arrangement.

8. (Louise Cort, 18 December 2003) On view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this month were:
(1) a five-headed Siva, Pre Rup style, mid-10th century (acc. no. 1993.387.1). Four heads facing in the four cardinal directions are topped by a fifth head.
(2) a Brahma with four faces looking in the four cardinal directions, Bakheng style, 10th century (acc. no. 1936.96.3), said to have been found at Prasat Prei in Angkor.
(3) a Hevajra, Bayon style, 12–13th century (acc. no. 36.96.4), said to have been found near the East Gate of Angkor Thom. This image has two tiers of four faces facing in the four cardinal directions and is said to be missing the ninth head on the top. [Subject of the Woodward article cited in comment 6.]

9. (Louise Cort, 18 December 2003) The underlying form of this vessel is related to the bottle with distinctive "swollen" neck represented in the Hauge collection by S1996.183. See discussion there of other examples of that bottle found at consumer sites. This elaborately ornamented bottle suggests a ritual use for bottles of this form in general.

10. (Louise Cort, 1 September 2004)  As I observed in June this year, the western gate of Ta Prohm, another Angkor monument built at the commission of Jayavarman VII, is surmounted by four faces looking in the four cardinal directions, above Tep Pranom figures, while a garuda with snake appears to each side of the gate.

11. (Louise Cort, 18 September 2007) The ongoing archaeological investigation of the greater Angkor region makes clear that we do not yet know the full scope of Angkorian period ceramic production. Thus it is unwise to attribute this vessel specifically to the Ban Kruat kilns. Moreover, the vessels' condition suggests that it might have been passed down as an heirloom--at any rate, not discarded at the kiln site but distributed, used, and buried (or not).

Changed Origin from Thailand, Buriram Province, Ban Kruat District, Ban Kruat kilns to Cambodia or Thailand. From Style, deleted Ban Kruat ware.

12. (Louise Cort, 27 July 2011) Pariwat Thammapreechakorn mentioned that he had collected a fragment of the base of a vessel like this from near a kiln site in Buriram province, Northeast Thailand. It is at the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum, but not accessioned into the collection. Altogether he has seen five or more pieces of this sort.

He made the interesting proposition that this Khmer vessel was inspired by Chinese funerary vases with applied figures on the elongated shoulder, made of qingbai-glazed porcelain and dated generall to the 13th century (Southern Song or Yuan).

13. (Louise Cort, 16 January 2017) Changed Date from late 12th-13th century to 1175-1250, following Desbat's revised chronology based on excavations in the Angkor area over the past two decades (Desbat 2011, 26). Evidence for vessels with Buriram-type green glaze centers on 1075-1250, but the iconography of this vessel places it more narrowly in a time span associated with Jayavarnam VII.

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

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