Skip to content


An image of Martaban jar with four medallions by

South China, China

Martaban jar with four medallions
Other titles:
Martaban large jar
Large jar
Place of origin
South ChinaChina
Qing dynasty 1644 - 1911 → China
18th century
Media category
Materials used
stoneware with stamped relief ochre decoration, brown glaze

29.8 x 28.5 cm

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of Mr L.G. Harrison 1981
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

Some categories of export ceramics take their name from the port through which they were exported. Best known of these port wares are Martaban and Swatow. The so-called Martabans are names after the entrepot port of Martaban on the west coast of Burma, which was an important link in the China-India ceramic trade. Goods were transported overland from China to Martaban, and from there were shipped to West Asia, India and Africa in the Song and Ming dynasties. With the rise of the Thai kingdom of Ayuthya in the mid 1300s, another land route became important. Thus Arab, Indian and later European merchants stopping at Martaban demanded large jars in which to store water, wine, oil, and other commodities for the next stage of their journey. They could be provided with Chinese, Thai or local Burmese jars - all referred to as Martabans. The port lost its importance when trading patterns changed and by the 1700s the great days of the Martaban trade were over.

Martaban ceramics, mainly sturdy, large storage jars, are found in abundance throughout the Indonesian archipelago, from the longhouses of northern Borneo to Sumatra and other islands. The jars play an integral part in tribal culture and were regarded as repositories of supernatural powers. They could be filled with local rice wine or even holy water from the Ganges. They were also used as funerary jars. In parts of Indonesia (where they are called 'tempayan'), Malaysia and the Philippines myths concerning Martabans abound, and the jars were believed to be able to talk and are also given a sex.

The Asian Collections, AGNSW, 2003, pg.144.

Bibliography (3)

Jackie Menzies, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Asian Art', pg. 85-103, Sydney, 1981, 91 (illus.). 8

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Export Ceramics', Sydney, 2003, 144 (colour illus.).

Editor Unknown (Editor), Chinese pottery and porcelain, Sydney, 1951. cat no. 130

Exhibition history (1)

Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, The Ceramic Society of Australia, Sydney, 12 Nov 1951–24 Nov 1951