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

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Water jar with stamped decoration

  • Earthenware with remnants of black coating
  • 19.4 x 29.5 cm
  • 17th-19th century, Ayutthaya period or Bangkok period
  • Origin: Kanchanaburi province, West-central Thailand
  • Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, and Victor and Takako Hauge
  • S2005.351


Pot of compressed globular form with round bottom, "lobed" body, short neck and flared mouth with circular grooves inside.
Clay: salmon pink earthenware.
Glaze: none.
Decoration: dense rows of various stamped designs around the neck; remenants of black coating.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (Louise Cort, 19 May 2005) With its elaborate impressed or stamped decoration, this is a type of jar associated with potters of Mon ethnicity, related to the stamp-decorated jars produced at Ko Kret. Perhaps it is the product of one of the communities of Mon potters formerly active along the Chao Phraya river between Ayutthaya and Bangkok.

2. (Louise Cort, 16 February 2006) A pot of this type, with gently lobed body, stamped decor around the neck, upright rim, and conical lid, is shown resting on a stove in Pranii Wongthet et. al. 1993, 47.

The river Mae Klong emerges from two tributaries, the Khwae Noi and Khwae Yai, at Kanchanaburi, and flows to the southeast past Ratchaburi, entering the Gulf of Siam at Samut Songkhram. This river seems to have given access to trading ships from China at an earlier date than the Chao Phraya, judging from the early Chinese ceramics recovered from the riverbank at Ratchaburi, as well as ceramics from the Ban Bang Pun kilns in Suphanburi province (Gumpereayarnnont 1985, 65–84).

An association of this pot with production in the vicinity of Kanchanaburi or Ratchaburi seems reasonable. Compare pieces said to come from Kanchanaburi: S2005.349–350, 352.

Praanii Wongthet et al. 1993. The Mae Klong Basin: Socio-Cultural Development. Bangkok: Silpakorn University.

Gumperayarnnont, Malinee. 1985. "Chinese Ceramics from Mae Klong River". Pp. 65–84 in Technical Workshop on Ceramics (T-W4): Final Report. Bangkok: SPAFA.

3. (Louise Cort, 12 July 2006) According to Dr. Luu Hung and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Hong Mai, Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, Hanoi, this jar definitely was not made in Vietnam.

4. (Louise Cort, 7 January 2007) A jar of this distinctive shape, with upright flat rim, flattened body, and stamped decoration (including a band of flower faces around the shoulder), is in the collection of the Itsuo Museum, Osaka, Japan, and was published in Nezu Institute of Fine Arts ed. 1993,  no. 10. The Itsuo jar dimensions are h. 29.3 cm, diam. 40.3 cm.

The jar is distinguished by retaining elaborate painted decoration rendered in red, olive-green, and black pigments, with gold (leaf?) added over the red. The catalogue text (p. 169) points out the resemblance of the pattern and color scheme to woodblock-printed cotton textiles (sarasa) made in India for the elite Thai market. The catalogue speculates that the jar must have been used for a special purpose and dates it to the 17th century. In the Japanese chanoyu context the jar has been passed down as a vase. It formerly belonged to the Matsuura family, daimyo of the Hirado domain in northwest Kyushu—prime territory for access to goods imported from Southeast Asia. The jar is accompanied by a stand woven of vine and a heavy wooden box thought to have been made in Southeast Asia.

Nezu Bijutsukan (Nezu Institute of Fine Arts), ed. 1993. Nanban, shimamono; Nankai hakurai no chato (Nanban and Shimamono: Exported Southeast-Asian Ceramics for Japan—16th–17th century). Tokyo: Nezu Bijutsukan.

5. (Louise Cort, 23 March 2007) In his thesis on the Mon population along the Chao Phraya, Brian Foster noted that there were Mon communities all along the Mae Klong River in the provinces of Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi—just downriver from a major route of entry from Mon country in Burma (Foster 1972, 12). This confirms the probability that this pot was made by a Mon potter living in Kanchanaburi province.

Foster, Brian Lee. 1972. "Ethnicity and Economy: The Case of the Mons in Thailand". Ph.D. Dissertation, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

6. (Louise Cort, 21 February 2008) What is the black substance coating the surface of this pot? In the Musée Guimet in Lyon (7 September 1998), I was shown a large jar collected from a village in northern Kompong Chhnang province, Cambodia, and most likely made there (acc. no. 60003226; see Biagini and Mourer 1971, 215, fig. 20). The vessel bore a shiny black coating of lac (resin from shells of the lac insect, Kerria lacca). Called ok in Khmer, it was described as having been used for keeping drinking water or husked rice (although the caption for the published image specifies storage of liquids).

Biagini and Mourer (ibid., 215, fig. 21) also published three other water jars made in Kampong Chhnang province. The walls of those jars are indented as narrow vertical lobes below bands of impressed decoration around the neck; this lobed form is called pumpkin, ‘lpeu’ in Khmer. Both the lac coated jar and the three water jars have rim forms similar to this jar, distinguished by a short upright rim rising directly from the shoulder or from the everted neck, with a projecting flange at the lower edge of the rim.

These resemblances raise the possibility that this jar comes from Cambodia.

The impressed design on this jar appears to have been made with small metal dies of the sort that might be used for silversmithing.

Biagini, Jean, and Roland Mourer. 1971. "La Poterie au Cambodge [Ceramics in Cambodia]." Objets et Mondes VI(2): 197–220.

7. (Louise Cort, 17 April 2008) All of the earthenware jars in the Hauge collection with small-scale and precise stamped decoration made with repeat impressions of individual stamps bear a visual and technical relationship to metal vessels of the region. One example of a Southeast Asian (possibly Thai) bronze vessel survives in Japan, where it has been used as a water jar for the tea ceremony. It is in the Nomura Art Museum collection in Kyoto (Hayashiya 1985, no. 216).

The vessel was raised (hammer marks are still visible) and then ornamented with strikes of various metal stamps. The body shape is a compressed sphere, with a wide neck that tapers toward a mouth with horizontal everted rim. (The shape is similar to S2005.353–366.) The vessel rests on three short feet. Large pendant motifs of two alternating leaflike designs are spaced around the upper half of the body, below a narrow band of heart-shaped motifs on the shoulder. Two smaller motifs alternate around the neck. The flat rim also bears a band of ornamentation. The elaborate lid has radiating raised lotus-petals around a central calyx-shaped knob.

The vessel is dated 16th century, although the description mentions that it has been passed down as a Higashiyama gyobutsu—a possession of the military ruler Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435–1490). It is said to have belonged later to the tea masters Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591) and Yabunouchi Kenshin (1536–1627) and subsequently to the Kyoto temple Nishi Honganji. 

Hayashiya Seizo, ed. 1985. Cha no dogu (3)—kame, kogo, mizusashi [Tea utensils (3)—kettles, incense containers, and water jars]. Vol. 12, Chado Shukin. Tokyo: Shogakukan.

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