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

Print | Back to Normal Layout


  • Earthenware
  • 21.8 x 7.5 x 6.8 cm
  • 19th-mid 20th century, Tay Son or Nguyen dynasty
  • Origin: Southern Vietnam
  • Provenance: Mekong River Delta, Southern Vietnam
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2004.230


shallow bowl-shaped container on top. Saucer-shaped base broken off (cf. S2994.231). Wheel thrown and assembled. Unglazed. Coated with yellowish powder.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 11 July 2002) The Hauges acquired this vessel 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." 

Mrs. Tran Thi Thanh Dao, Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, said that lamps of this type have been found in various sites, including Oc Eo, Dong Nai, and Go Cong (in Tien Giang province).

2. (Louise Cort, 17 February 2005) Chinese? I am struck by the strong resemblance to the green-glazed stoneware lamps S2005.72–73, unmistakably from Shiwan (Shekwan), Guangdong province.

3. (Louise Cort, 26 April 2005) An ivory-glazed oil lamp on a tall cylindrical stem with flat base is published as Vietnamese, 12th–14th century, in Stevenson and Guy eds. 1997, 225, pl. 96. I am not convinced that the lamp should be dated that early, but it seems to provide evidence for production of such lamps at kilns in northern Vietnam.

Stevenson, John, and John Guy, eds. 1997. Vietnamese Ceramics, A Separate Tradition. Chicago: Art Media Resources.

4. (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.

5. (Louise Cort, 23 May 2007) The Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, has unglazed tall lamps of this type excavated from the Hung Loi kiln site in District 8, Ho Chi Minh City, a kiln operated by immigrants from Guangdong.

6. (Louise Cort, 25 May 2007) Unglazed lamp stands of this type were on sale in antique shops in Ho Chi Minh City, where they were presented as "Cham"—like all unglazed earthenware that was not alternatively classified as "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 two tall copper-green glazed lamps as well as many unglazed ones.

8. (Louise Cort, 29 May 2007) The Binh Thuan Museum, Phan Thiet, holds wasters collected from the Phu Troung Phu Long kiln, 15 kilometers northeast of the city, which made cylindrical jars (S2004.195–212), small dishes (S2004.100, 131–144, 149–151, 173–192), and other unglazed stoneware vessels. The potters were said to be ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) and the kilns to have operated from the 15th into the 20th century. Unglazed lamps on tall stems (h. 22.5 cm) were among the wasters.

9. (Louise Cort, 21 May 2009) Changed Origin from China? to Southern Vietnam. To Period added Tay Son or Nguyen dynasty. To Date added 19th–mid 20th century.

field notes

Submit Comment 0 comments total

No field notes found.