Dish

About this object

History of use

Chinese ceramics were important trade items in Southeast Asia during the 11th - 16th century C.E. Due to their physical characteristics - resonance, vitreosity, durability - Chinese ceramics became fully integrated with the ideology and ritual in Philippine societies and played an important role in all aspects of cultural life (Langrick, p.61). Their functions were varied and included utilitarian, ceremonial, religious roles, as heirlooms, in mortuary ceremonies as burial goods and as items of prestige. As burial goods, imported Chinese ceramics constitute the vast majority of goods excavated in the Philippines. Buried with the deceased, they acted as indicators of wealth, protected the departing spirit from evil and served as provisions for the afterlife. Turned-over plates and bowls were used to cover certain parts of the body - the head and neck, hands, pelvis and feet - establishing a protective area around the body. Much of the excavated ceramics are consciously miniaturized replicas of larger, more functional vessels. These miniatures served as symbolic substitutes as provisions for the afterlife. In addition, small jarlets and bottles and other containers were used for ritual substances (oils, herbs, aromatic resins) and for food offerings necessary for the departing spirit. It is also important to note that much of the trade ceramics excavated in the Philippines show little or no evidence of usage before burial. Chinese celadons have their origins in the Shang Dynasty (1766 - 1045 B.C.E.) and continue to be made even today. The trade in Chinese celadons reached its zenith during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 C.E.) when they were traded within China and exported widely in Southeast Asia, Africa and the near east. The trade in celadons was eventually supplanted by blue and white wares in the mid-14th century. Longquan or southern celadons were generally produced in a great number of kilns.

Narrative

This dish is part of a collection of Chinese ceramics found in burial context in the Philippines and was excavated at a burial site in Lumban, Laguna Province, Philippines. Repairs were done by specialists employed by archaeologists and the Philippines National Museum. They were artists by training.

Cultural context

exchange; status; ceremonial; mortuary

Iconographic meaning

In many indigenous groups of the Philippines, supernatural power was attributed to Chinese ceramics because of the ringing sound emitted when lightly tapped and their vitreous, shiny glazed surfaces which impart an impermeable quality. The ringing sound was seen as a magical voice able to attract the attention of powerful ancestor spirits. Their impermeable and seemingly imperishable surfaces were believed to have great protective power against all kinds of influences, from evil spirits to poisons (Langrick, p. 55-56). To the Chinese, the subtle green of celadons symbolizes both great age and life's renewal. More importantly celadons resemble jade, which from antiquity has been considered the most precious of stones, associated with the essential elements of nature and the legitimacy of kings and emperors. A carp, with its scaly armour, is regarded as a symbol of martial attributes and because it struggles against the current is emblematic of perseverance.

Specific techniques

According to Medley, the body material of Longquan Ware varies from a heavy, compact grey stoneware to an almost white porcelaneous material. The exposed foot burns a bright reddish brown. They were fired at temperatures between 1,180-1,280 degrees centigrade in dragon kilns - a series of about ten to twelve interconnected chambers each a step higher up on the hillside. The fire box and main stoke-hole were at the foot of the slope with additional stoke-holes at intervals up the slope on one side and peep-holes on the other side. In this way, the temperature and state of the firing could be checked at regular intervals throughout the firing period. The kilns were fired from the lowest level first with the uppermost chambers fired last and finishing last. The finest and most expensive wares usually came from the upper chambers where temperature was the most even and controlled. These dragon kilns could fire from 20,000 to 25,000 pieces in a single setting, an indication of the size of the industry.

Physical description

A celadon dish with gently sloping sides, a slightly grooved rim and a foot ring. The centre is moulded with a raised single fish, probably a carp. The cavetto is smooth with outside moulded petal decoration. Oxidized iron spots can be seen under the glaze on one side of the dish. The foot rim is unglazed burning a reddish-brown and revealing a grey clay body. Paper sticker with number in centre and inked letter and number is written on the underside.