Japanese / Octagonal Jar / Edo period, 18th centuryJapanese
Octagonal Jar
Edo period, 18th century

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Name-CRT: Japanese
Title: Octagonal Jar
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1700
Creation End Date: 1799
Creation Date: Edo period, 18th century
Creation Place: Japan, Saga Prefecture
Object Type: Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Classification Term: Ceramics
Materials and Techniques: Porcelain painted with underglaze cobalt blue and overglaze enamels, with traces of gold (Arita ware, Imari style)
Dimensions: H. 17 5/8 in. (44.8 cm); W. 12 3/8 in. (31.4 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.231
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Rights: http://www.asiasociety.org
Context: The rapid development and diversification of the Japanese porcelain industry in the 17th century is one of the most fascinating episodes in the history of ceramics. During this period, the city of Arita, located in the Saga Prefecture in Hizen Province on the southern island of Kyushu, became the largest and most important center for the production of porcelain in the world. Several factors contributed to this development. One was the contribution of the many technically advanced potters brought to Japanfrom Korea during the late 16th-century Japanese invasions of that country. Another was the prohibitive effects of the civil disarray in 17th-century China on its ceramic industry, which led Europeans and other customers in search of highly prized porcelains to turn to Japan.

Many questions remain regarding the development of porcelain in Japan. Traditionally, the discovery of the type of clay needed to produce porcelains has been credited to a potter named Ri Sampei, who was one of the Korean artisansbrought to Japan. Production of porcelains began around 1610 in the Karatsu stoneware kilns located just to the north of Arita. Karatsu wares also reflected the influence of other Korean advances, such as sophisticated types of kilns and kick wheels for throwing.

The first Japanese porcelains were painted with underglaze cobalt blue, known as "old blue-and-white" ware (ko-sometsuke). But by about 1640, overglaze enamels or a combination of overglaze enamels and underglaze blue--seen here on this large octagonal jar--were also used to decorate porcelains. It is generally accepted that overglaze enamels were introduced to Kyushu from Kyoto rather than from China. One reason for this assumption is the use of a vibrant overglaze blue in both Kyoto ware and Japanese porcelains, a color not found in Chinese ceramics of that period.

The large size of this jar suggests that it was made for export, and the painting is carefully composed to cover the surface. On the body of the jar, beautifully attired women are shown walking around a country retreat. A combination of fantastic creatures, flowers, clouds, and cartouches filled with the eight symbols of BuddhismĂ˝??parasol, canopy, lotus, vase, fish, sea slug, endless knot, and wheelĂ˝??decorate the neck, shoulder, and area at the base. Red and blue are the predominant colors, and touches of yellow, black, and pink are also present. Gold pigment, most of which has rubbed off, was used to highlight parts of the composition. The hairstyles and type of clothing worn by the women indicate that they are high-ranking courtesans and their attendants, and reflect customs prevalent in 17th-century Japan, particularly during the Kanbun and Genroku eras (1661-1688). However, the density of the composition andthe complexity of motifs on the neck and shoulder help to date this jar to the 18th century.

The style of the buildings is characteristic of Japanese representations of Chinese architecture, and the somewhat narrative quality of the composition suggests that the scene may derive from Chinese literature. Parodies of Chinese and Japanese literature were common in woodblock prints in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and it seems likely that such themes influenced other art forms as well.

The majority of Japanese porcelains are classified as Arita wares, based on the location of their production. Arita wares are traditionally subdivided into Imari, Kakiemon, and Nabeshima styles (although this system is currently under revision). This jar is an example of Imari ware, named for the port in Kyushu from which these porcelains were shipped.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 102.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.231
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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