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. Dehua white wares probably originated from Dehua the southern Chinese province of Fujian from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 C.E.) and continuing over a period of 150-200 years (Locsin, p. 1 & 6). Large quantities have been excavated from Philippine burial sites. From the condition of trade ceramic pieces shown in published sources and in the Tecson collection, it appears that most of the wares were kiln seconds or rejects. They were nevertheless regarded with high esteem and actively traded.

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).

Physical description

A large plain white dish broken into two pieces across the centre and then repaired. The base is broad, flat, encircled by two raised rings, has no foot ring and is unglazed revealing a chalky white clay body. There is also an unglazed band around the rim. Grit adhesions on cavetto and the glaze is crackled throughout. A set of inked letter and number is written on the bottom.