Gourd-Shaped Sake Bottles with Auspicious Motifs


Gourd-Shaped Sake Bottles with Auspicious Motifs

ceramics / Edo

Imari ware

Edo period, 17th century

Porcelain with overglaze enamel


This is an example of Japanese porcelain based on red Tianqi ware from China. Tianqi ware is blue and white porcelain decorated with red or green overglaze enamel. These simple, refined works were produced at the end of the Ming dynasty, during the 16th and 17th centuries, in Jingdezhen, an area in China famed for porcelain production. Many of these wares were also exported to Japan.

In Japan, the art of tea ceremony surged in popularity from the Azuchi-Momoyama period through to the early Edo period, in the late 16th and early 17th century. During this time, porcelain dishes for serving food, sake flasks, water jars, and incense containers from China were used in tea ceremonies.

Tea utensils known as shonzui-de type were particularly prized for their beautiful white ground and rich, blue hues. The surfaces of these objects were delineated by circular or geometrical designs, with detailed patterns drawn within. These were apparently made to order from Japan.

This sake flask is an example of Imari ware, or porcelain made in Arita, Saga prefecture. It is modelled on the aforementioned shonzui-de type utensils from China. A gourd shape is formed using a shaping mold, with the surface divided up vertically using curved lines. Flamboyant, intricate red and yellow designs are then rendered using overglaze enamel. The meticulous, unbroken pattern is an auspicious motif from China. The flasks are also imbued with a seasonal flavor, with springtime kerria plants alternating with fringed pinks from autumn. Perhaps this reflects the aesthetic sensibilities of the Japanese people.

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