Set of Bowls ([Mukōzuke])
These bowls were made by applying a transparent glaze to a white ground, firing, then applying color for decoration. In China, this decorative method is known as wucai, or the five colors method. Wucai porcelain with additional gold coloring is known as kinrande in Japan owing to its resemblance to kinran, or textiles decorated with golden thread.
These bowls were made in Jingdezhen in China's Jiangxi province. Jingdezhen was already a world-famous site of pottery production during the Ming dynasty, from 1368–1644. The kilns of Jingdezhen produced objects for presentation to the emperor as well as for overseas trade and domestic consumption. By the 16th century, the region was churning out opulent porcelain items like kinrande ware, with many items exported to Europe too. We know that Jingdezhen objects were owned by members of the royalty and nobility across Europe, including Elizabeth I.
Kinrande ware also found its way to Japan. The Japanese owners were believed to be those figures powerful enough to conduct trade with China. One of these was Otomo Sorin, a renowned feudal lord from Kyushu who lived from 1530 to 1587. Fragments of kinrande objects have been found in historical sites associated with the Otomo clan. At the time, owning the latest Chinese porcelain was seen as a status symbol.
We are not sure how these bowls were used when first brought to Japan, but they probably served as bowls for the tea ceremony or dishes for kaiseki banquets. The supreme craftsmanship of the Jingdezhen kilns is on full display here in the rich colors and beautiful gold hues.