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

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Spirit house figure of a humped bull

  • Unglazed stoneware
  • 9 x 11 x 4 cm
  • Sawankhalok ware
  • 13th-14th century, Sukhothai period or Ayutthaya period
  • Origin: Sawankhalok kilns, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai province, North-central Thailand
  • Provenance: Ayutthaya, Central Thailand
  • Gift of Sarah M. Bekker
  • S2005.11

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 25 April 2005) According to Dr. Bekker's precise records, she and her husband acquired this figurine (no. 1560 in her records) from the dealer named Kammearn in Ayutthaya. She understood that it came from Si Satchanalai or Sukhothai.

It is interesting to discover that clay figurines of humped cattle (bulls?) have been found at various prehistoric Bronze Age sites in Northeast Thailand, including Ban Na Di, Udon province (Woodward 2003, 13, fig. 3; Higham 2002, 139 (lower left fig.), 140 (second fig. from bottom, of an infant's grave "associated with clay figurines of cattle and an exotic stone bangle")) and Ban Lum Khao, Khorat province (Higham 2002, 143 (op. cit in lower right)). Cattle effigy pots have been found at Huai Yai and Non Nok Tha in Northeast Thailand (Higham, 124 (op. cit., lower left)).

Woodward, Hiram. 2003. The Art and Architecture of Thailand. Leiden and Boston: Brill.  

Higham, Charles. 2002. Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia. Chicago: Art Resources.  

2. (Louise Cort, 27 September 2005) Green-glazed ("celadon") humped cattle figures were recovered in Burma from kilns in the Twante complex southwest of Rangoon (Toyama Satō Bijitsukan  ed. 2004, no. 16, dated 14th–15th century) and from the Phayagyi kilns southeast of Twante (ibid., 20, fig. 45; see map p. 29). Brown-glazed figures of humped bulls from the Lampang kiln site in northern Thailand are in the collection of Chiang Mai University (ibid., 26, fig. 65), and the collection is also said to include examples from the Phan kilns (ibid., 26). This points to a cultural connection.  

Toyama Satō Bijutsukan (Sato Memorial Art Museum Toyama), ed. 2004. Tōnan Ajia kotōji ten IX—Myanmaa to sono shūhen (Special Exhibition; South-east Asian Ceramics vol. 9) [Burma and environs]. Toyama: Tōyama-shi Kyōiki Iinkai (Toyama City Board of Education)
 
3. (Louise Cort, 8 January 2007) An earthenware head of a male figurine with a top knot was excavated at the Ban Tao Hai kiln site north of Phitsanulok (Hein and Sangkhanukit 1985, 25 and fig. 17 [A92EW]). Other figurines of this type were collected on the surface. 

Hein, Don, and Prachote Sangkhanukit. 1985. Report on the Excavation of the Ban Tao Hai kilns, Phitsanulok, Thailand. Research Centre for Southeast Asian Ceramics Papers 1. Adelaide: University of Adelaide.

4. (Louise Cort, 8 January 2007) In modern Thailand, there are two varieties of "spirit houses." The ‘sanjaothi’, "abode of the lord of the place," seemingly the older of the two, rests on four posts and incorporates ancestral energies and spirits of the land. The Brahmanic type known as ‘sanpraphoom’, "abode of the honorable land guardian," rests on a single pillar. It typically houses an image of Prah Chaimonkon, "lord of glorious victory" (Cranfill 2006).

Cranfill, Marisa. 2006. "Sanpraphoom: The Spirits in the Spirit Houses." Newsletter National Museum Volunteers 12: 12–24.

5. (Louise Cort, 14 January 2007) A celadon-glazed fragment of a figure of a humped bull was recovered from the Phan kiln site in Chiang Rai province, along with a celadon-glazed figure of an animal without hump. (Sasaki et al. 2000, 83, Phan-1 and Phan-2, fig. 10 and 22.)

An unglazed model of a humped bull was found at the Si Satchanalai kilns; Don Hein includes it among his MON ceramics (Hein, 2001, fig. 24-I). It is made with lateral holes through front and back legs and through the muzzle, which Hein suggests were used to attach wheels to make the figure usable as a toy. Although Hein is cautious about dating, he suggests that MON production centered in the 13th–14th centuries (Hein 1999, 140). MON production made use of in-ground kilns, which contributed to the smoky firing producing the gray coloration of unglazed stoneware.

Changed Date from 14th–16th century to 13th–14th century.

Sasaki Tatsuo, Mukai Kou, and Kusu Hiroki. 2000. "Hokubu Tai Wiang Bua, Ban Bo Suak, Phan yōseki saishū tōjiki no kiji kansatsu [Analysis of the clay bodies of ceramics collected at Wiang Bua, Ban Bo Suak, and Phan kiln sites in Northern Thailand]." Kanazawa Daigaku Kōkogaku kiyō (Bulletin of Archaeology, The University of Kanazawa) 25: 74–117.

Hein, Don. 2001. "The Sawankhalok Ceramic Industry: from Domestic Enterprise to Regional Entrepreneur". PhD Thesis, Department of Science and Technology, Deakin University, Melbourne.

Hein, Don. 1999. "The First Underglaze Painted Decoration at Sawankhalok: identification of a key influence? (Diqu shouci chuxian de youxia caihui: Taigou taoci tazhan shi shang wailai yingxiang de zhongyao xiansuo?)." Guoli Taiwan daxue Meishushi yanjiu jikan (The Taida Journal of Art History) 7: 137–158.

6. (Louise Cort, 10 February 2007) In an email message today Don Hein wrote, "The animal model looks just like those made at Si Satchanalai in the MON period and not later. The clay body is always dark. Later models are more lifelike and always with four (unjoined) legs and of white or light-colored clay body. Although there are no axle holes in this specimen they commonly were penetrated through the front and back (double) leg and through the nose (for pull string). John Shaw shows animal models in both his books on Northern Thai ceramics but not of the joined leg type. The joined leg type seems to be modeled with the intent of an axle and wheels (the wheels are a common find at Si Satchanalai) and not so much as a free standing model. My guess is it is Si Satchanalai (or what I would call Sawankhalok or more accurately Sanghalok as I accept Vickery's contention that Si Satchanalai is a misnomer)."

Changed Ware from Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai, or Lan Na ware to Sawankhalok ware. The Date remains the same.

7. (Louise Cort, 3 May 2011) Two similar fragments of unglazed gray stoneware figures of humped bulls, collected at the Phan kiln site in Chiang Rai province by Victor Hauge in the 1960s, are in the Freer Study Collection, FSC-P-6728 and 6752.


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