New Acquisitions: 2016
Funerary five-spouted jar with cover for storing grain
Around a millennium ago, this striking jar would have been buried with a deceased parent to secure the family’s eternal well-being. Produced at the Longquan kilns in Zhejiang province, mostly during the tenth and eleventh centuries, vessels with five functionless spouts were used to hold grain and were typically paired with a dish-mouthed jar for alcohol. Together the two jars might have been presented to the elderly as a wish for longevity and happiness, but the vessels’ ultimate purpose was to be filled and entombed to provide sustenance for the deceased. On this jar, the guard dog-shaped finial was probably meant to protect the grain from theft while in the tomb.
The Freer|Sackler has a strong holding of more than twenty-five Longquan ceramics, including other granaries and a dish-mouthed jar, but this is our first spouted jar. Although the Freer’s jars are not inscribed, an extremely similar five-spouted jar, now in the Longquan Celadon Museum, bears an inscription describing it as a “granary for five kinds of grain made in conformity with the rules of Heaven and Earth that the deceased may bestow long life, wealth and status on countless generations of descendants.” Other inscribed jars show that the deceased were sometimes called upon to bestow infinite happiness on their families and peace on the world.
Anywhere from four to fifteen spouts can appear on these jars, but five was the most compelling number. The main staples of life were collectively known as the “five grains” (wheat, rice, millet, barley, and soybeans). Jars with five protuberances had been made in the Longquan area since the Tang dynasty (618–907); during the Northern Song dynasty, the projections changed from solid horns to functionless spouts. The local Zhejiang dialect offers a possible explanation: the word for “tubular spouts” is homophonous with “grain.” The five tiers of the body reinforce the idea of the jar holding the five grains necessary to sustain a person. Five-spouted vessels continued to be made into the twelfth century but were gradually replaced by funerary jars decorated with dragons and tigers on the shoulders.
Providing grain and wine in tombs was a longstanding practice in China. The museum holds vessels made for this purpose in many materials, dating from the Neolithic period through late imperial China. One ceramic jar, made in the twelfth or thirteenth century at the Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi province, bears a bluish-white qingbai glaze. It resembles a small model of an actual granary building and provides a regional variation of the five-spouted jar.
Markedly different in appearance, these two Song dynasty grain jars are united by function and modern provenance. Both were generously donated by Lois Raphling, who purchased them from the sale of Myron (Johnny) and Pauline Falk’s collection of Chinese ceramics. The Falks, two outstanding twentieth-century collectors, also donated works of art to the Freer, and their papers are held in our Archives. Their deep passion and knowledge of Chinese ceramics spurred the interest of many collectors in looking beyond imperial Chinese porcelains. The granary jars tell us an important story about the beliefs of Chinese commoners and reveal the high quality of the ceramics that were within their reach.