Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours




Asian art

View More:


Martaban jar with four medallions

18th century


Unknown Artist


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.


Other Titles

Martaban large jar

Large jar

Place where the work was made



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


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


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

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

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