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 seated boy

  • Earthenware
  • 6.3 x 5 x 3.7 cm
  • 16th-18th century, Ayutthaya period
  • Origin: Thailand
  • Provenance: Ayutthaya, Central Thailand
  • Gift of Sarah M. Bekker
  • S2005.12

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 20 April 2005) According to Sarah Bekker, there was a big flood in Ayutthaya in 1970, and a large number of spirit house figures suddenly became available in the market. She suspects that a large spirit house with many votive images was washed into the river by the flood.

2. (Louise Cort, 8 January 2007) An earthenware head of a male figurine with a top knot was excavated at the Ban Tao Hai kilnsite north of Phitsanulok (Hein and Sangkhanukit 1985, 25, 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.  

3. (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.

4. (Louise Cort, 30 January 2008) This figure formed in a bivalve mold, with a naturalistic form, may be Chinese in technical lineage if not in origin.

5. (Louise Cort, 18 February 2009) In a meeting at the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Pakkret, Nonthaburi, where he is collaborating in a study of pottery production in Nonthaburi province, Mon ceramic specialist Pisarn Boonpoog said that small figures of this type were probably not made by Mon potters working in villages along the Chao Phraya river, but by Thai. If Mon potters did make them, they could not keep them at home (in household spirit shrines). The figures would have been offered only to the village temple or to the spirit house or holy shrine for the village as a whole, known as san chao (Thai) or hai prachu (Mon).

6. (Louise Cort, 21 April 2014) This figure is close in material and forming (using a bivalve mold) to the figure of a boar (S2005.9), which Pariwat Thammapreechakorn stated in 2011 was Chinese. "Chinese" could mean either made in China or made by potters of Chinese origin within the large overseas Chinese population of Thailand.

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