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

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Jar

  • Stoneware
  • 3.9 x 4.9 cm
  • 15th-16th century, Later Le to Restored Later Le, or Ming dynasty
  • Origin: possibly Red River Delta kilns, Vietnam or China
  • Provenance: Mekong River Delta, Southern Vietnam
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2004.228

Description

Small jar with flat base, rounded shoulder, short upright neck. Wheel thrown. Unglazed.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 11 July 2002) Mrs. Tran Thi Thanh Dao, Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, said that pots like this are in her museum collection, but she does not know the site.

2. (Louise Cort, 12 June 2003) The Hauges acquired vessels of this type as "Oc Eo." They knew a Vietnamese military officer stationed in the Mekong delta area; he recovered pots from the swampy margins of rivers during the low-water season. Such pots were said to be "from Oc Eo."

3. (Louise Cort, 18 February 2005) Small jars (h. 6.4 cm) of similar form were part of the cargo of the Hoi An wreck, a shipwreck off the island of Cu Lao Cham, offshore from the port city of Hoi An in central Vietnam, that was excavated in 1997–99; much of the cargo was sold at Butterfields in Los Angeles and San Francisco on 11–13 October 2000. The bulk of the ceramic cargo appears to have been made at sites in the Red River delta ceramics complex in northern Vietnam; the goods were dated late 15th–early 16th century. The jars closest in shape to the Hauge jars bore plain clear glaze and were undecorated (Butterfields 2000, vol. 1, 194, lot 456). Could the Hauge jars be misfired products of the Red River delta kilns, sold cheaply as seconds to a Mekong delta market?

Butterfields. 2000. Treasures from the Hoi An Hoard. 2 vols. San Francisco and Los Angeles: Butterfields.

4. (Louise Cort, 27 April 2005) Based on the form of this jar, the date 15th–16th century, assuming a relationship to Ming jar forms, seems appropriate.

5. (Louise Cort, 13 May 2005) The Hauges owned a copy of Malleret's 1960 publication on Oc Eo and employed it to confirm the pieces they acquired as "Oc Eo culture." It is important to note that Malleret acquired all his ceramic samples, except those that he excavated from Oc Eo, as surface finds located in the course of general surveys of other sites (Malleret 1960, 92).

Malleret summarized his vision of Oc Eo culture ceramics drawn from such surveys: "Ceramics held a considerable role in the material life of the ancient inhabitants of the Transbassac. Judging from the enormous mass of fragments that lie scattered under the sun in Oc Eo and occur in compact sheets at certain levels, one is inclined to think that the ceramic industry occupied an important place among their activities. In fact, it seems that one was in the presence of a city whose population had been dense and had deposited enormous accumulations of debris over several centuries. But pottery was not mixed solely into the domestic aspect, where it was manifest as stoves, as cooking pots, as diverse containers, as lamps, as rattles for infants. It had furnished containers and crucibles for metallurgists, net weights for fishermen, spindle-whorls for the preparation of thread from textile fibers, and perhaps also stamps for impressing patterns onto woven cloth.... It is possible that pottery served numerous additional offices in a commercial setting in a maritime location." He goes on to mention the probable roles of small-mouthed vessels for storage and transport of foodstuffs, including oils and salt; of straight-necked jars for holding liquids and creating an air-tight seal necessary for fermenting fish sauce (nuoc mam); of small, wide-mouthed vessels for domestic storage of materials in the kitchen, as well as for unguents, perfumes, medicines, cosmetics, and rouge (although they were easily portable and could have been commercial items). He proposes that ceramic containers, along with wooden ones, served to transport raw materials and finished products of the important industries of Oc Eo (including gold jewelry, glass and stone beads, bronze and tin metallurgy) (ibid., 92–93). He describes necks of large jars over forty centimeters in diameter, presumably used for storing rainwater (ibid., 94).

Malleret studied 291 whole objects and more than 2000 sherds (787 from systematic excavations). He found five types of earthenware body (ibid., 98–100, analysis in Appendix I, 353–357):
(I) unfired or very low fired, without sand (including crucibles and spindle-whorls);
(II) red clay containing considerable sand and mica, naturally occurring in the clay, which seemingly was used without adding additional temper, formed by hand or on the potter's wheel into fishnet weights, stoves, and lids for cooking pots. Even when the exterior is fired red or gray, the interior may retain the color of ochre earth. Some appear to have been slipped;
(III) red clay with added fine sand temper, possibly derived from ground laterite containing particles of limonite; worked by hand or on the wheel;
(IV) blackish clay containing little sand, blackened by firing in reduction, sometimes with burnished surface, worked by hand or on the wheel, found in the lowest levels beneath the brick monuments at Oc Eo;
(V) fine paste, sometimes hard but usually soft, of homogenous, well-processed texture, variously rose, salmon, gray, or yellowish in color, sometimes appearing to contain temper made from prefired and ground clay, used mainly for special products with a certain "artistic cachet."

In addition, (VI) much higher fired than the previous five types, like stoneware, showing a connection to glazed Khmer stoneware, suggesting a Khmer occupation level at Oc Eo.

Malleret, Louis. 1960. La civilisation matérielle d'Oc-Eo. L'Archéologie du Delta du Mékong, tome 2. Publications de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient, Vol. XLIII. Paris: l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient.

6. (Louise Cort, 25 May 2007) Unglazed jars of this type and size were on view in various antique dealers' shops in Ho Chi Minh city, where they were consistently described as "Cham" (like all pieces of unglazed earthenware—unless they were called "Oc Eo.")

7. (Louise Cort, 28 May 2007) The ceramics storeroom of the Dong Nai Museum in Bien Hoa contains ceramics recovered within the province, primarily from the Dong Nai River, especially in the vicinity of Bien Hoa. The collection includes one small jar of this type (L9150/S150).

8. (Louise Cort, 22 August 2007) An unglazed jar of this type was on sale in an antique and design store in Phnom Penh.


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