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Imari: Porcelains for Shoguns and European Kings, 1610-1760

Outline
Sections

1.The Origins and Development of Imari
2.Porcelains for Japanese Shogun and European Kings
3.Masterpieces of Imari for the European Market
4.European Ceramics Imitating Imari Originals


1.The Origins and Development of Imari: Japanese taste

China gave birth and developed one of the most technologically advanced forms of ceramic, white, hard-bodied porcelain. The porcelain making technique was then introduced into the Korean Peninsula. Not possessing this technique, up until the end of the 16th century Japan imported porcelains from China. In 1592 to 1598, when Japan sent troops into the Korean Peninsula the Nabeshima forces, led by the lord of the Saga domain in Kyushu, returned back to Kyushu with Korean potters in tow. In the 1610s, these potters succeeded to produce the very first Japanese porcelain in the Arita region of Hizen Province. Hizen porcelain was shipped from the nearby port of Imari to the entire Japanese archipelago, and for this reason Hizen porcelain came to be commonly known as 'Imari'.

Although the Korean potters who helped initiated Hizen porcelain production were only familiar with white undecorated porcelain that was produced in their home country, Japanese domestic demand was for Chinese blue and white wares made in Jingdezhen, and for this reason Hizen kilns from the very beginning fired porcelains with underglaze cobalt-blue designs.

In 1644, civil unrest in China reduced the level of export of Chinese porcelain drastically. Seizing advantage of this trade opportunity, Hizen wares soon dominated the Japanese porcelain market, and eventually started to be exported to Southeast Asia from 1647 onwards. As a result of expanded production, Hizen porcelain underwent a significant shift in production around the 1650s, ostensibly switching from Korean influenced methods to Chinese-based techniques.

The most significant technological change in this period was the introduction of overglaze polychrome enameling techniques from China around 1647, making it possible to produce beautifully coloured porcelains. Starting in the 1650s, Nabeshima ware replaced Chinese porcelain as annual tributary gifts to the Shogun from the Nabeshima family. Nabeshima porcelain fired from 1690s to 1720s is thought to represent the pinnacle of Japanese porcelain refinement, and was made largely in response to the tastes of Shogun.


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    Moulded dish in shape of hare with underglaze cobalt-blue detailing with dotted lines
    1660~1680s
    d 15.0cm x h 2.5cm x f/b 7.1cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns (Kakiemon kiln)
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum (Shibata Collection)

     

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    Dish with underglaze cobalt-blue design of moon, pampas grass and balloon flower
    1650~1670s
    d 22.5cm x h 3.6cm x f/b13.2cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns (Kakiemon kiln)
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum (Shibata Collection)

     

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    Moulded dish in shape of a noble woman with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel detailing with floral patterned kimono
    1690~1730s
    d 28.5cm/19.0cm x h 4.6cm x f/b 18.0cm/9.8cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Private Collection

     

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    Moulded dish in shape of a noble woman with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel detailing with plovers in red dappled mist patterned kimono
    1690~1730s
    d 28.5cm/19.0cm x h 4.6 x f/b 18.0cm/9.8cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Private Collection

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2.Porcelains for Japanese Shogun and European Kings: differing lifestyles and tastes reflect different shapes and designs

The Tokugawa Shogun was the highest authority in Japan during the Edo period. The Nabeshima family, lords of the Saga domain in Hizen Province, presented annual tribute goods (kenjo-hin) consisting of Nabeshima porcelains for dining, the finest produced in the domain, to the Shogun to ensure a stable relationship and help maintain the autonomy of their domain. Reflecting the Japanese culinary customs of the period, the Shogun would have eaten with chopsticks from dishes that most commonly took the form of small wooden bowls placed on small individual trays with legs.

Around the same period, the Dutch East India Company placed ordered with Hizen potters to create porcelains that could complement the lifestyles of the kings of Europe. Contrary to Japanese customs, Europeans used knifes when eating, which made the flat dish with a flaring rim the most efficient form of vessel. Bowls were also employed to hold fruits and sweets. In addition, different concepts of space and rooms used in Europe and Japan created the need for different styles of porcelains. One of the most dramatic examples is the armature set composed of five large jars and vases covered with sumptuous decorations to visually decorate European palaces. Europeans decorated their rooms with symmetrically arranged sets of large jars and vases, and affluent rulers sought after splendidly decorated jars and ornamented vases. Japanese houses, to the contrary, were traditionally built of wood and had quite low ceilings, thus there was no custom in Japan of displaying large objects inside a home. The deeply rooted Japanese aesthetic of ma, which implies absence or space, or spatial tension rather than emptiness, coupled with an appreciation for asymmetry (called at the time kabuku) were aesthetic qualities that came to the fore during this period.

Different uses of space and aesthetics in the east and in the west are clearly reflected on Hizen porcelain designs. Europeans preferred the ceramic surfaces filled with colour and motifs, while the Japanese preferred to leave ample amounts of white ground surrounding asymmetrically placed designs.


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    Dish with overglaze polychrome enamel sarasa (chintz) pattern
    1670~1690s
    d 15.5cm x h 3.3cm x f/b 8.0cm
    Japan, Hizen, Nabeshima Official kiln
    Collection of the Saga Prefectural Museum

     

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    Dish with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of phoenix
    1670~1680s
    d 19.8cm x h 4.9cm x f/b 10.7cm
    Japan, Hizen, Nabeshima Official kiln
    Collection of the Imari Nabeshima Gallery

     

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    Tripod dish with underglaze cobalt-blue design of herons and lotus leaf (Important Cultural Property)
    1690~1720s
    d 28.0cm x h 8.5cm x f/b 17.5
    Japan, Hizen, Nabeshima Official kiln
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum

     

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    Dish with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of hydrangea
    1690~1720s
    d 20.5cm x h 5.7cm x f/b 10.5cm
    Japan, Hizen, Nabeshima Official kiln
    Collection of the Matsuoka Museum of Art

     

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    Dish with underglaze cobalt-blue design of hare and moon
    1690~1760s
    d 13.8cm/14.8cm x h 3.3cm x f/b 7.8cm
    Japan, Hizen, Nabeshima Official kiln
    Collection of the Imaemon Museum of Ceramic

     

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    Lidded large jar with underglaze cobalt-blue design of pine, plum and bamboo
    1720~1770s
    d 20.3cm x h 58.5cm x f/b 20.0cm
    Japan, Hizen, Nabeshima Official kiln
    Collection of the Iwao Engineering, Iwao Taizan Kiln

     

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    Dish with ten facets and overglaze polychrome enamel design of bird, plum and bamboo (Nigoshide body, Kakiemon style)
    1670~1690s
    d 24.4cm x h 4.5cm x f/b 15.2cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita, Nangawara area kilns
    Collection of Sawaguchi Shozo

     

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    Octagonal large jar with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of phoenix and peony
    1690~1730s
    d 19.1cm x h 54.8cm x f/b 17.3cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum

     

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3.Masterpieces of Imari for the European Market: designs, forms and styles for European rulers

To help supplement the dramatic reduction of Chinese porcelain available for the export market after 1644, Hizen porcelains began to be produced for export to European markets from 1658. The Dutch placed orders for porcelains that catered to the demands of contemporary Europeans.

Hizen porcelain was made in a wide range of forms for export, from tableware ranging from vessels for coffee, tea, chocolate and liquor, seasoning containers, to stationery items, furnishings, and even medical equipment. Among the range of vessels produced, tableware and seasoning containers were fired in the greatest Volume. Dishes were made in the greatest number, with large dishes representing the classic export item of this period. A contemporary document records that the largest Hizen porcelain dish measured 40-50 cm in diameter. Unlike the Japanese custom, Europeans used volume to measure vessels. Therefore, a half size vessel refers to a dish measuring 30 cm in diameter. Designs on Hizen porcelains bound for export were in general substantially different from patterns adorning wares made for the Japanese domestic market. Quite a number of patterns were created specifically for the European market, including the flower vase design.

The Kakiemon style, popular in the 1670s-1690s, was supplanted by the Kinrande (?ebrocade?f) style, which became prevailing style in the 1690-1730s. The Kinrande style ushered in new combinations of overglaze polychrome enamels. The new style can be broadly classified into two groups; one type employs the two colour-palate of red and gold mostly over underglaze cobalt-blue. The other type utilises a five or six colour-palate that includes green, yellow, blue and purple with the red and gold. The latter type was more refined and expensive.

Large jars and vases furnished the palaces and halls of the aristocratic families of Europe. Large jars with a total height of 60cm including the lid were made for an export by the end of 17th century. These types of large jars were not made for the Japanese domestic market in the same period. The porcelain kiln size obviously restricted the height of the jar that could be fired. As the demand for larger jars grew from the European market, Arita potters adapted the kiln shapes and were able to fire vessels as large as 90 cm in total height by the first half of the 18th century.

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    Large dish with underglaze cobalt-blue design of phoenix and camellia (Kraak influence)
    1690~1710s
    d 55.6cm x h 9.0cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Usui Collection

     

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    Dish with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of fighting centaurs
    1700~ 1730s
    d 26.5cm x h 4.0cm x f.b 14.4cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum

     

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    Shaving dish with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of chrysanthemum and peony
    1690~1710s
    d 27.0cm x h 7.7cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Usui Collection

     

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    Figure of carp with overglaze polychrome enamel detailing
    1740~1760s
    d 17.0 cm/16.3cm x h 30.7cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Usui Collection

     

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    Tureen with lid and underglaze cobalt-blue design of flower vase
    1690~1730s
    d 29.3cm x h 9.7cm x f/b 24.8cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum

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4.European Ceramics Imitating Imari Originals

It was not until 17th century that the first white hard porcelain was successfully fired in Europe. Since the 16th century Europeans had been importing and greatly valued porcelains fired in the Jingdezhen kilns in China. East Asian porcelain of high quality was distributed throughout Europe and proved a stimulus for European potters and artisans.

Potters in Delft, Holland produced a soft paste ceramic that derived inspiration from Chinese and Hizen porcelains.

The Kakiemon style produced from the 1670s to the 1690s garnered a significant reputation in Europe. Johann Friedrich Bottger succeeded in firing a type of hard paste porcelain in 1709 under the patronage of Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony. Augustus the Strong?fs Meissen kilns skillfully copied Kakiemon style porcelains in the following decades.

Porcelain making techniques were introduced quickly into the Meissen kilns and then spread to the other areas of Europe. Porcelain production became widespread by the latter half of the 18th century. This period directly coincided with the cessation of export of Imari ware to Europe. Chinese porcelain continued to be imported to Europe but also stopped by the end of the 18th century. This was a beginning of the new era with new varieties of porcelain, which made reference to East Asian prototypes, and yet created new European generated designs.

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    Octagonal dish with overglaze polychrome enamel design of Hob in the Well (Shiba Onko) and floral scroll (Nigoshide body, Kakiemon style)
    1670~1690s
    d 25.5cm x h 5.1cm x f/b 13.5cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum (Shibata Collection)

     

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    Octagonal dish with overglaze polychrome enamel design of Hob in the Well (Shiba Onko) and floral scroll
    The second half of 18th century
    d 22.3cm x h 5.0cm x f/b 11.5cm
    England, Chelsea
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum

     

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    Large dish with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of flower, vase and floral scroll
    1700~1730s
    d 55.4cm x h 8.3cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Usui Collection

     

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    Large dish with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of family crest and floral scroll
    18th century
    d 54.3cm x h 8.1cm x f/b 32.5cm
    France, Sevres
    Collection of the Idemitsu Museum of Arts

     

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    Chrysanthemum-shaped dish with underglaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of flower and plant
    1700~1730s
    d 26.0cm x h 5.2cm x f/b 16.0cm
    Japan, Hizen, Arita kilns
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum (Shibata Collection)

     

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    Chrysanthemum-shaped dish with underlaze cobalt-blue and overglaze polychrome enamel design of flower and plant
    Mid to late 18th century
    d 25.6cm x h 6.7cm x f/b 15.4cm
    England, Worcester
    Collection of the Kyushu Ceramic Museum

     

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