Superb, Large Brown-Glazed Tapering Martaban Jar
Mon State, Lower Burma
circa 16th century
height: 56cm, diameter: 50.5cm
This large Martaban jar is one of the most beautifully proportioned examples we have seen, It is in essentially perfect condition. It is also beautifully glazed in browns and yellows which have developed a lovely patina.
It is heavily-potted, large, short-necked, wide-shouldered, and tapers to a small flat foot. The top two thirds are decorated in a brown glaze with thin, horizontal and vertical bands of yellow bosses. The bottom third has been left un-glazed.
The shoulder has four small, equi-distant handles. This might have been used to strap the jar for carrying but also to secure it with raffia when it was being transported by shop.
The Mon people of Lower Burma established states in Pegu and Martaban. In Martaban, they established large pottery kilns to produce storage vessels such as this example which were used across Southeast Asia and even India and the Middle East to transport commodities such as dried fish, oil, grains, dried chills and dried mango. It is likely that the jars were used again and again and were strapped into the holds of small trading vessels in the manner that the Romans transported wine and olive oil in amphorae around the Roman empire, or much like containers are used and re-used to ship goods on containers ships today.
According to Fraser-Lu (1994, p. 201), Martaban jars are first mentioned in 1350 by the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, who visited the port of Martaban.
As a consequence of this trade, jars produced in Martaban were found in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Borneo and India.
When not used for transporting goods, the jars were then re-purposed locally as storage jars often for rice or drinking water.
A very similar jar is in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia (see Bennett & Kelty, 2014, p. 278). Related jars are illustrated in Brown (2009. p. 49) and Valdes (1992).
The jar here is in superb condition.
Bennett, J., & R. Kelty, Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices, Art Gallery of South Australia, 2014.
Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum, Bangkok University, Bangkok University Press, 2009.
Burmese Crafts: Past and Present, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Valdes, C., ‘martaban jars found in the Philippines’, in
Arts of Asia, September-October 1992.
private collection, UK.
Inventory no.: 4687