Basin in the shape of an alms bowl, inscribed with the Heart Sutra

Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, late 19th century
Unglazed stoneware
Yixing ware
H x W: 9 x 14.5 cm (3 9/16 x 5 11/16 in)
China, Jiangsu province, Yixing
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Ceramic, Vessel

Alms bowl

begging, Buddhism, calligraphy, China, Heart Sutra, inscription, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), stoneware, sutra, Yixing ware

To 1916
Lai-Yuan and Company, New York, to 1916 [1]

From 1916 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Lai-Yuan and Company in 1916 [2]

From 1920
The Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See Original Pottery List, L. 2485, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Lai-Yuan & Company (C.L. Freer source) ca. 1915-April 1921


Shaped like a monk's alms bowl and inscribed with the Buddhist text known as the Heart Sutra, this water basin is actually a secular object for a scholar's desk. Pottery made in Yixing was favored by scholars, whose appreciation for calligraphy influenced Yixing pottery so that writing played an increasingly prominent role in ceramic decoration. During the nineteenth century some potters trained as calligraphers and used writing as the sole decor on their pots. When a scholar rinsed off his brush in this basin, he may have been motivated by the calligraphy to improve his own writing. Likewise he may have been inspired by the text, which exhorts, "Form is no different from Emptiness, and Emptiness is no different than Form."

Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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