Thai ceramics were among the first Southeast Asian wares to be seriously studied, starting with WA Graham’s 1922 article “Pottery in Siam” in the Journal of the Siam Society. The field only gained momentum in the 1960s following Charles Nelson Spinks’ important contributions on Tai pottery and in the 1970s from the discovery of the Prasat Ban Phluang temple site.
There is a legend that “Chinese potters went to Sukhothai in the late 13th century and founded the Thai stoneware tradition” (Miksic 2009: 94). However, there are no ancient sources which corroborate this story and Brown noted several forms of evidence, including decorative motifs, use of tubular supports or pontils, and kiln design, which are not paralleled in China, though there are some links with Vietnam (Brown 1977: 59).
From the historical point of view, the principality of Sukhothai was established “between 1220 and 1250 when, according to Thai history, it broke free from and allegiance to Angkor – it is around this time, in fact, that Khmer history records a war with ‘Siam’” (Brown 1988: 57). By 1300, the Sukhothai kilns were in full production, indicating a strong relation between the founding of the kingdom and the increase in production.
Sukhothai is famed for its stoneware of plates, dishes and bowls, having an underglaze iron black decoration of fish in the centre, encircled by rings (one, two or three). Other Sukhothai characteristics include:
- “a circular scar with evenly space unglazed dots (usually five) in the centre” (Rooney 1989: 129) that is sometimes integrated into the fish designs;
- a white slip showing on the base;
- and a coarse, grainy, greyish (sometimes brownish) body with white particles.
|Brown calls the drawing of the Sukhothai fish “free, lively, summary” (1988: 64), as opposed to the more formal representations of Sawankhalok fishes. Examples are shown below
|With a flat lip, the inside laid with a cream slip; the centre medallion with a fish in underglaze iron-black irregularly mottled, thus concealing 5 spur marks within the well; all covered with a translucent glaze; the outside wall with a slip and two decorative circular bands in iron-black, but unglazed; the roughly carved foot unglazed, and with a coarse grey-brown biscuit containing white particles.
H: 7.8 cm, D: 25.9 cm
NUS Museum S1969-0030-001-0
|Bowl of conical form with an undecorated cavetto, the flattened mouth-rim and the outside wall with circular decorative underglaze iron-black bands; the centre medallion with a fish, mottled, thereby camouflaging the 5 spur marks; drawn on a cream slip and covered by a pitted thin transparent glaze; the carved foot with a brownish-pink biscuit containing whitish particles.
H: 8 cm, D: 25.7 cm
NUS Museum S0001-0066-001-0
|Bowl with three circular bands along inner mouth-rim. The cavetto is painted in iron oxide of 2 fish separated by 2 sprigs of leaves; centre medallion bordered by 2 circular bands with central vegetal/ floral motif and 5 spur marks (the white discoloration comes from calcification of the piece).
H: 8 cm, W: 22.3 cm
NUS Museum S2003-0001-046-0
|An exceptionally well-potted bowl with somewhat flattened mouth-rim decorated with 3 circular iron-black decorative bands. The centre medallion, ringed by two decorative bands, contains a well-drawn fish, its mottled body helping to camouflage 5 spur marks. All decoration is done on a cream slip. The outside wall is similarly slipped, with 3 decorative bands, but unglazed. The carved foot shows a dark-brown biscuit containing whitish granules, and has a well-defined cylindrical pontil mark on the base, the biscuit of a lighter hue within the mark. The cylindrical pontil mark is exceptional on a Sukhothai piece, and must indicate that the bowl stood at the bottom of the stack.
H: 7.3 cm, D: 22.2 cm
NUS Museum S1968-0110-001-0