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

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Jar with four horizontal lugs, applied and combed decoration

  • Unglazed stoneware
  • 62 x 58.1 cm
  • Mong Cai ware
  • 19th-mid 20th century, Nguyen dynasty
  • Origin: Mong Cai kilns, Mong Cai, Quang Ninh province, Northern Vietnam
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2005.114


Jar of ovoid form with short tapered neck towards rounded lip, flat base. Four mold-formed animal mask handles on shoulder.
Clay: brown stoneware.
Glaze: none.
Decoration: three ridges round the shoulder alternate with combed wavy pattern.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, July 30, 2002) According to Victor Hauge, this jar was bought in Saigon. It is similar to the group of unglazed jars acquired as "Oc Eo," including Hauge nos. 11 and 10 (S2005.153 and 176).
Ms. Tran Thi Thanh Dao, Museum of Vietnamese History, Ho Chi Minh City, who helped with the collection of this work at the Hauge residence, said she had not seen anything like it and wondered whether it could be Thai.

2. (Candy Chan, Research Assistant, June 13, 2003) Jars of this type with raised bands, loop handles and combed wavy lines are in the collection of Brunei Museum. Harrisson identifies these jars as Cambodian wares from the Khorat Plateau, Northeast Thailand, dated to 14th to 15th century. Fragments with similar wavy lines decoration were excavated in Ban Kruat on the Khorat Plateau close to the Thai-Cambodian border (Harrisson 1986, pls. 48–49).

Jars with raised bands and/or lug handles (molded with animal design), identified as Thai are in the collection of National Museum Jakarta (formerly Museum Pusat), dated to 17th–18th century (Adhyatman and Ridho 1984, 181, pls. 188–189).

Harrisson, Barbara. 1986. Pusaka: Heirloom Jars of Borneo. Singapore: Oxford University Press.

Adhyatman, Sumarah, and Abu Ridho. 1984. Tempayan di Indonesia (Martavans in Indonesia). Rev. 2nd ed. Jakarta: Himpunan Keramik Indonesia (The Ceramic Society of Indonesia).

3. (Louise Cort, 30 June 2003) According to Tran Ky Phuong, independent researcher, Da Nang, jars like this were made in central Vietnam and were used by sea-going people to store water.

4. (Louise Cort, 7 August 2003) The Harrisson identification of such jars as Cambodian from the Ban Kruat kiln group is incorrect, based on oversimplified association of the combed decor. The Ban Kruat kilns (see sherds in the Freer Study Collection) did not produce unglazed brown stoneware of this type.

5. (Louise Cort, 28 January 2005) A related, though smaller (h. 52 cm), jar is in the Museum Seni Asia, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur (Dupoizat 1988, 523–524 (Jar no. 147)).

Dupoizat, Marie-France. 1988. "Recherches sur les Jarres en Asie du Sud-Est". Ph.D. Thesis, L'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

6. (Louise Cort, 15 February 2005) A jar of this type (height 48 cm) was excavated from Hakata (Morimoto 2004, 10(no.37) and 14(fig.12)). Morimoto identifies the jar as of Northern Vietnamese manufacture. Morimoto comments, "Near Hai Duong, the vicinity of Ban Yen is a vast site of kilns for production of unglazed stoneware. Moreover kilns throughout the north produced this kind of stoneware with "rope curtain pattern" [vertical chattering]. At the present it is impossible to specify the place of production of this jar, and it can simple be associated with northern Vietnam. Accordingly the date of production is also unclear" (ibid., 3). The jar came from site 60, from a layer that dates to the 17th century or later.

Morimoto Asako. 2004. "Hakata shutsudo no Tōnan Ajia tōjiki ni tsuite (Southeast Asian Ceramics from Hakata, Fukuoka)". Pp. 1–14 in Tōjiki ga kataru kōryū—Kyūshū, Okinawa kara shutsudo shita Tōnan Ajia tōjiki (Interrelations between Kyushu and Southeast Asia—Through Southeast Asian Ceramics found in Kyushu and Okinawa). Kagoshima: symposium sponsored by Tōnan Ajia Kōkogakkai (Japan Society for Southeast Asian Archaeology), Kyushu Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan [Kyushu National Museum], and Kagoshima Daigaku Maizo Bunkazai Chōsashitsu [Kagoshima University Buried Cultural Properties Research Room].

7. (Louise Cort, 18 October 2005) Archaeologist and ceramics specialist Morimoto Asako, Fukuoka, noticed that the belly of this jar bears traces of the vertical chattering marks that help associate it with production in North Vietnam. The vertical marks are left by a bamboo scraping tool used to smooth and consolidate the surface of the vessel. I observed this tool used by a potter in Huong Canh, a potters' community making unglazed stoneware northwest of Hanoi (Cort 1994, 54–57, esp. fig. 19).

According to Kikuchi Seichi, the potters who started the production in My Xuyen-Phuoc Tich, north of Hue, were said to have come from Mong Cai. See S2005.134 and 135.

Cort, Louise Allison. 1994. "In Search of Ceramics in Vietnam." Asian Art and Culture VII(1): 44–61.

8. (Louise Cort, 16 February 2006) The Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, owns a very large jar of this ware (height 101 cm, diameter of mouth 34 cm, maximum diameter 87 cm, tall conical neck h. 7.5 cm) that was displayed in the inner courtyard in March 2004. According to the director, Dr. Huy, this ware is said to have been made in Mong Cai, in northern Quang Ninh province close to the border with China. The potters were Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese). He said the jars were "very popular in the villages."

According to the label, the VME jar had been transmitted for six generations (approximately 150 years) in a lineage in Hai Phong province. It had been purchased in Mong Cai and used at first to catch and store rainwater. Two-thirds of the jar was buried in the ground to protect it. The water was used for making tea. During the anti-French war (1945–1954), the jar was buried completely and used to store rice. After 1975, the main family gave the jar to a man in a cadet branch, who used it in Hai Phong City for ten years to store water for cooking. He then gave it to his son, who lived in Hanoi. The son lent it to a pharmacist, who stored alcohol in it. In 2002 the son gave the jar to the museum.

A second jar of this ware (height approximately 1 meter) stood outside the museum shop.  It had four molded lugs on the shoulder, quite similar to the lugs on this jar, applied over combing. Vertical chattering marks were visible in horizontal rows along the body.

In Hanoi I bought a photograph from a commercial photographer, Ta Quang Bao. The photograph was titled "Lam tuong" (making soy-bean sauce). The photograph showed a courtyard lined with large jars in several graduated sized (24 visible), many with plate-like lids. Soybeans were spread in the courtyard to dry, and a woman was using a plastic ladle to add or remove something from one jar. The photographer told me that the photograph had been taken in Ha Tay province, about 25–30 kilometers outside Hanoi to the southwest.

While in Washington last summer, Nguyen Thi Dung of the Ministry of Fine Arts, Department of Intangible Cultural Property, explained that tuong is a soy-bean sauce thicker than "soy sauce," served as a dipping sauce for vegetables or bean curd. The large jar in which the sauce is made is called chum in Vietnamese.

9. (Louise Cort, 14 July 2006) According to Dr. Lu Hung and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hong Mai, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, jars from Mong Cai were transported all the way to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) by train (not boat). Thus it would have been possible for the Hauges to buy this jar in Saigon.

The most obvious use for such a jar was storage of rain water in the countryside. It could also be used to store rice or beans, or to prepare soy-bean sauce (‘tuong’), or to store dried manioc (‘san kho’) or sweet potatoes (‘khoai kho’), to be mixed with rice and cooked for human consumption, or to be fed to animals.

Mrs. Mai thought the jar dated to the 19th century, because of the pattern of the lugs. Dr. Hung thought the jar was not very old, since the bottom was not smooth from wear.

Mrs. Mai described the use of large, wide-mouthed jars to make ‘mam ca’ fish paste, using a mixture of fish and shrimp. The liquid that seeped from this mixture was ‘nuoc mam’.

10. (Louise Cort, 7 January 2007) A large jar (h. 88 cm) that looks very similar to Mong Cai jars, with a short inverted neck, three raised ridges on the shoulder of the unglazed brown body and "lug handles decorated with floral motifs" and "various combed patterns surrounding the body," was part of the cargo of the sunken ship Diana, a ship that traded between Calcutta and Madras in English East India Company-ruled India and Canton, making one round trip a year, and sank in 1817 in the Straits of Malacca. The cargo was sold at Christie's Amsterdam, 6-7 March 1995, and consisted mainly of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain, including both European armorial ware as well as "kitchen Qing." The jar was lot 428 (estimate 4000–8000 guilders) and was identified as "possibly southern Chinese," but it was withdrawn before the auction. It may have been the "giant Martaban" found in the stern of the ship (diagram of artifact original locations, n.p.).

11. (Louise Cort, label text, "Taking Shape: Ceramics in Southeast Asia,' 1 April 2007)

The Mong Cai kilns, located near Vietnam's border with China, specialized in making large unglazed jars until the mid-twentieth century. Such jars were essential for households in both cities and villages. One jar of this type, now in the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi, belonged to six generations of one family for more than 150 years. At various times family members used it to collect rainwater for cooking and drinking, to store rice, and to keep alcohol in a pharmacy. Mong Cai jars were also employed for making soy-bean sauce, fermented fish paste, and fish sauce utilized in Vietnamese cooking. Jars were transported throughout Vietnam, and some examples have been recovered from sunken ships, where they held commercial goods or drinking water.

12. (Louise Cort, 2 June 2007) A large jar of this form and clay body, without lugs, is in the collection of the Phu Yen Museum, Tuy Hoa (h. 62 cm).

13. (Louise Cort, 1 September 2007) A Mong Cai jar of this size is in the collection formed by the abbot of Wat Bo, a monastery in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

14. (Louise Cort, 27 January 2008) The port of Van Ninh, in modern Mong Cai city, was established after the founding of the Ly Dynasty (1009–1225) and became a major port of contact for Chinese trade, complementing the port of Van Don, which focused on trade with countries to the south (Abe and Kikuchi 2006, 131). It would also have facilitated the marketing of ceramics from the Mong Cai kilns.

Seeking insight into the trading activities at Van Ninh, in a survey in Dong village, at a locale along the coastline called Va Dat, Abe and Kikuchi made surface recoveries of Ming celadon, Qing blue-and-white, Tran (1225–1400) celadon, white ware, and underglaze-black ware, unglazed stoneware jars, and kiln tools. They identified what they believed to be remains of kiln walls and concluded that a kiln had operated there. They also investigated an area called Thoi Sanh, where they picked up fragments of Yuan and Ming celadon, Qing blue-and-white, Vietnamese Ly and Tran bowls with celadon, white, black, and green lead glazes, along with unglazed stoneware jars and lids (ibid.,133).

Abe Yuriko, and Kikuchi Seiichi. 2006. "Betonamu no taigai bōekikō—Nihon ni nyushutsu sareta Betonamu tōjiki no tsumidashikō wo saguru [Vietnam's foreign trade port—searching for the shipping port that exported Vietnamese ceramics to Japan]". Pp. 131–140 in Zenkindai no Tōnan Ajia kaiiki ni okeru karamono to nanbanmono no kōeki to sono igi [Trade in Chinese and Southeast Asian goods in the East Asian ocean region during the Early Modern Period and its significance]. Sakura: Kokuritsu Rekishi Minzoku Hakubutsukan (National Museum of Japanese History).

15. (Louise Cort, 22 Dec 2014) According to archaeologists Kikuchi Seiichi and Abe Yuriko, they came across many jars of this type in their surveys of sites along the coast of central Vietnam. One jar was said to have been full of coins when purchased by a museum: the 26,000 coins included Chinese and Japanese (Kan'ei tsuho, minted in the Kan'ei era, 1624-1644) coins, and the newest Vietnamese coins dated to 1802, the reign of Emperor Minh Manh.

16. (Louise Cort, 18 May 2015) A tall, slender jar (height 50, diam 36.7 cm) that is related to the Mong Cai kilns by its four mold-formed horizontal lugs is in the Masuda collection, Japan (Machida City Museum 2013, no. 445). Fired to a higher temperature than this vessel, the jar's surface has taken on a dark brown color with a metallic sheen. The shoulder is defined by two thin relief bands between the neck and the lugs and a third band below the lugs. Small mold-formed mythical creatures, sprigged on, alternate between the lugs, framed by the lower and middle bands. A four-petal floral motif is stamped above each lug, between the upper and middle bands. The surface of the neck and shoulder from mouthrim to below the lowest bands is filled with rows of undulating fine-tooth combing, ending with a straight row. Five straight rows, spaced at intervals, define the jar's base just above the foot.

The tall, slender jar seems to represent another component of the Mong Cai repertory, in addition to the very large jars.

Machida City Museum. 2013. Masuda korekushon--Buetonamu toji no ni sen nen [The Masuda collection: Two thousand years of Vietnamese ceramics]. Tokyo: Machida City Museum.

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