10. Thailand, Si Satchanalai, Ayutthaya period. 15-16th c. Covered Box with Interior Tray. Stoneware with iron glaze and iron pigment under clear glaze. W. 8 cm. (Freer Gallery)
Painted decoration on Mainland Southeast Asian ceramics related to indigenous traditions of painting (and writing), such as murals or illustrated manuscripts on palm leaf or paper. An intriguing aspect of painted ceramic decoration is the nature of the brush employed. Some forms of decoration on Sawankhalok and Sukhothai ceramics appear to be executed with a stiff brush (possibly softened plant fiber) that leaves crisp, blunted ends to the lines. Elsewhere, in Kalong or at the Red River Delta kilns in North Vietnam, the soft, flexible Chinese-style animal-hair brush must have been employed, judging from the quality of line and outline.
Painted iron decoration covered by clear glaze (or possibly applied over it) appeared on stoneware made at the Dai La kiln site west of Hanoi in the fourteenth century. Some dishes and bowls made at the Binh Dinh (Vijaya) kilns in Central Vietnam also bore iron decoration under the glaze. Similar underglaze decoration on stoneware was produced at the Sawankhalok kilns on MON-associated stoneware (MASW). This production occurred in the early decades of the fifteenth century, according to shipwreck evidence.
Around the same time, the Sukhothai kilns produced wares with iron decoration over thick white slip, which became their standard mode, while the Sawankhalok kilns shifted by mid-fourteenth century to a focus on celadon glaze. It is possible that the use of iron-painted decoration in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries represented a response to iron-decorated wares imported from southern Chinese kilns, such as the Haikang kilns in southern Guangdong province. By contrast, a later (sixteenth-century) phase of iron decoration at Sawankhalok and Kalong appears to be an attempt to replicate (in the absence of the actual blue pigment) the decoration executed with cobalt on wares from North Vietnam and southern China. Similar iron decoration appears on very few ceramics from Lower Burma dating to the sixteenth century (Freer Gallery).
Note: The term 'Sawankhalok' was used at one stage to describe all ceramics made at Si-Satchanalai in north-central Thailand. By the mid 14th century, the rising kingdom of Ayudhya used the name Sawankhalok ('place of heaven') to describe the ancient town of Si-Satchanalai, which had a long ceramic tradition. However, the modern town and province of Sawankhalok were never associated with ceramics, so to avoid confusion the name Si-Satchanalai should be used to describe the ceramics made in that area. (Maritime Asia)