Dragon Jar, 17th century
Dragon Jar, 17th century
Crocker Art Museum, Hiroko Hara and Shigeharu Takahashi collection of Asian Trade Ceramics, gift of Nancy and Lon Hatamiya
The Chinese monopolized the ceramic trade in Asia from the Tang through the Yuan periods (618–1368), but when the Chinese Ming Emperor Hongwu (1368–1398) prohibited private foreign trade, Southeast Asian merchants stepped into the gap the prohibition created. From this period until the end of the 16th century, when a later Chinese emperor revoked the prohibition against trade, Vietnamese and Thai traders increased their production of ceramics, having to contend only with illegally smuggled Chinese goods.
Chinese trade ceramic production, which included porcelain and stoneware, and monochrome, underglaze, and overglaze wares in an enormous range of shapes, proved the model for the Southeast Asian potters. Yet differences in clay body, glazes, decor, and form distinguish Chinese production from that of other regions. An example of these differences can be seen by comparing the unctuous celadon glaze of the 12thcentury Chinese jarlet, page 34, to the later Thai jarlet. Chinese potters had developed celadon glaze by the 7th century and continued to improve it; the heights they achieved were never attained by Thai potters. Wares with these glazes (often called greenware), which range from a pale to a bright apple green, were extremely popular in Southeast Asia, where it was believed the glaze would reveal poisonous food.
In the 14th century, potters in both Thailand and Vietnam made use of a variety of monochrome glazes as well as underglaze brown or black for decoration in bowls, plates, and covered boxes. Underglaze iron painting clearly derives from Guangdong ceramics, particularly those produced in the kilns of Xicun. One characteristic type of vessel from the Thai kilns, particularly Sawankhalok, are covered boxes, many of which are decorated with underglaze brown, as in the covered box shown on page 34.
The Dragon Jar, upper right, is a Chinese example of blue underglaze. Southeast Asian potters did not create true porcelain, but the fine white clay of Vietnam lent itself to the production of blue-and-white glazed wares, which became the most important export ware of the Vietnamese potter during the 15th and 16th centuries. An example is shown at lower right. The looser underglaze painting style of the Vietnamese wares, though differing greatly from the painting on Chinese ceramics, made use of the extensive repertoire of auspicious Chinese motifs, such as bamboo, which indicates good luck.
In the 1990s, the excavation of the Cu Lao Cham (Hoi An) shipwreck off the coast of central Vietnam revealed the largest cargo of Vietnamese wares to date. A vase and a charger from this find are shown on page 36. Along with thousands of fragments, 150,000 complete pieces were recovered. Comparison with shards from the kiln site of Chu Dau indicates that the cargo was produced there and at other kilns in Hai Duong Province in the north.