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The Marinduque Celadon Jar - National Cultural Treasure [Philippines]

The Marinduque Celadon Jar - National Cultural Treasure [Philippines]

The Marinduque Celadon Jar is a distinctive stoneware dated to 1279 to 1368 Common Era (CE), originating from the Yuan Dynasty China. It was purchased by Alfredo Evangelista, then assistant director of the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP), in Marinduque in 1965. 

motif Chinese dragon Long (龙), which is a revered benevolent mythological creature and an emblem of imperial power
A close-up view of the celadon jar’s distinct motif, the Chinese dragon or Long (龙), which is a revered benevolent mythological creature and an emblem of imperial power. In ceramics, particularly blue-and-white porcelain, the presence of the dragon motif signifies that the object was commissioned to serve as imperial gifts.

The celadon jar, with accession number 65-B-5, features a translucent jade-like green glaze application almost throughout its body, decorated with four Chinese dragons in embossed reliefs – a symbol of imperial power, strength, and good fortune in East Asian culture. The artifact’s form is characterized with an everted rim, short-waisted neck, edged shoulder with four vertical lugs, broad body, narrow bottom, and flat foot. It measures 31.2 cm in height and 18.5 cm in maximum body width.

Celadon, or greenware, is a kind of stoneware ceramic with bluish-green or grey-green glaze fired between 1200 °C and 1350 °C. The etymology of the word “celadon” and how it got its ceramic-related signification remains inconclusive in the historical records.

However, there was a consistent utilization of the term to refer to muted greyish-green color during the 19th century. In China, celadon is called Qing Ci (青瓷), which translates to “green porcelain”, hence greenware. 

While the oldest archaeological evidences of celadon artifacts were excavated from middle Shang period (circa 1400–1250 Before Common Era or BCE) sites in China, the production of this object type was also spread to other Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Myanmar. 

One of the earliest and most important production centers were the Longquan kilns in Zhejiang province, China, where fine celadons was sourced for exportation up until the Ming period. Along with other ceramics like blue-and-white porcelain, celadons became a highly valued commodity before and during the Age of Trade (16th to 19th century).

Marinduque Celadon Jar as exhibited in the museum
The Marinduque Celadon Jar as exhibited at Palayok: The Ceramic Heritage of the Philippines gallery of the National Museum of Anthropology. It is featured along with two other NCTs, the Maitum Quadrangular Burial Jar (left) from Sarangani and the Blue and White Dish with Flying Elephant (center) from the Lena Shoal shipwreck of northern Palawan.

Celadon and other ceramic types have been found in several land and underwater archaeological sites in the Philippines. Some of these sites include the Pandanan Shipwreck in southern Palawan, Lena Shoal Shipwreck in Busuanga Island in northern Palawan, Santa Cruz Shipwreck in northwest Zambales, and Calatagan in Batangas. The discovery of these sites as well as recovered artifacts provided substantial archaeological insights on the country’s role in the regional maritime trade, and the locals’ lifeways, particularly in the 15th century.

The Marinduque Celadon Jar
The Marinduque Celadon Jar acquired by the NMP in the 1960s and declared as a National Cultural Treasure in 2010.

The detailed provenance (or history of ownership) of the Marinduque Celadon Jar is still subject to further research. Existing records, however, indicate that this object was bought by Evangelista in 1965, along with a Sawankhalok greenish-grey glazed plate, a ceramic ware produced by the Sukhothai kingdom of central Thailand in the 13th to 15th century.

Four years prior to purchasing the jar, Evangelista conducted systematic excavations at Pilapil Cave in Marinduque, which yielded local artifacts and sherds associated to Song (960–1279 CE) and Yuan (1279–1368 CE) periods. The dragon motif of the Marinduque Celadon Jar suggests it is not an average object, but a unique marker of prestige; thus, making it an important and rare acquisition of the NMP.

As far as known, there are only two known existing celadon jars of its sort. The other two are part of the collections of the British Museum in London and of Dr. Arturo de Santos, a Filipino ceramic enthusiast in the 1960s. Considering its rarity, craftsmanship, and historical and cultural relevance, the Marinduque Celadon Jar was declared an NCT in 2010. It is presently exhibited at Palayok: The Ceramic Heritage of the Philippines gallery of the National Museum of Anthropology.

The extended Enhanced Community Quarantine has meant that you cannot visit yet the National Museum of Anthropology personally to see the Marinduque Celadon Jar along with other NCTs featured in several galleries within the NMP complex. While waiting waiting for authorized to reopen, you may view the 360 virtual tour program by clicking on this link:

Text by Gregg Alfonso Abbang, photos by Randy Episcope, and poster by Timothy James Vitales / NMP Archaeology Division

© National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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