The bulk of the oriental arts collection consists of Chinese wares. The collection also boasts of wares from Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. These artifacts attest to brisk pre-colonial trade activity between the Philippines and its Asian neighbors.
The craft of pottery making is ancient. It developed in prehistoric times when the early man first learned how to cultivate crops and raise animals. Clay pots then became necessary for cooking. Earthenware pottery is known to have been made by about 10,000 BC. The pots were piled against firewood which produced low-fired ceramics that were suitable as containers but were porous.
Over thousands of years ceramic making has developed and eventually refined. Kilns were built that allowed firing temperatures to be more easily controlled. Glazes or glassy coatings applied to the outside of the pots in making them waterproof as well as decorative.
The ceramic collection of the UST Museum is comprised mainly of Chinese wares and a display of many glaze types. A significant grouping is the trade wares exported from China to the Philippines over 600 or more years ago. The Museum’s collection can be grouped under these broad headings: ancient Philippine pottery, Chinese ceramics, Thai ceramics, Vietnamese ceramics, Japanese ceramics, and European ceramics.
The earliest examples of Philippine pottery were found in Sulu and the Cagayan Valley and are probably 5,000 years old. The Philippine pottery tradition provides many clues to the lifestyle and culture of ancient times. The wares displayed in the UST Museum date back sometime during the Late Metal Age or the Ceramic Age.
Chinese trade ceramics dating from the 9th century AD have been found at early Philippine sites in Butuan, N.E. Mindanao, and Samar Island. By the 14th century Chinese trade wares were abundant while ceramics from Vietnam and Thailand began arriving in the Philippines. The trade ceramics on display at the UST Museum are grouped into these classifications: first, Song-Yuan ceramics. These include brown, gray, white, qing-bai (a glassy glaze with bluish or greenish tinges), and lead glazed wares of the 12th – 14th centuries. They are mostly small pieces, either plain or decorated with incised or molded designs.
Next there are the Chinese Celadons; the esteemed green glazed ceramics, also known as green ware. They have a wood-ash glaze that contains a small amount of iron and were fired in a reduction kiln. The low amount of oxygen in the kiln caused the iron in the glaze to turn green.
The third classification is made of Chinese blue and white wares; known as glazed decorated wares. The cobalt oxide which are also painted on the clay body, and then it is covered with a clear glaze and fired. The examples on display date to the latter Ming Period (15th-16th centuries). Next, we have Thai and Vietnamese wares. There are only a few examples of these ceramics displayed in the Museum. They include under glaze brown decorated wares, white wares, brown wares, and jars.
Lastly, there are the storage jars. These are prized items and heirloom jars handed down by parent to child over many generations. Their size, shape, and design usually determine the use of jars. The trade ware jars in the UST Museum’s collection date back from the 11th to the 19th century. This demonstrates that, although the trade of smaller ceramics was discontinued after the 16th century, the trade in jars continued into the Spanish period.
Browse Selected Pieces from the Collection: