Sake Pitcher with Birds and Flowers


Sake Pitcher with Birds and Flowers

ceramics / Edo

Imari ware

Edo period, 17th century

Porcelain with overglaze enamel



In the tea ceremony, serving matcha tea to a group of guests is called a tea gathering. At formal tea gatherings, a light meal is served before the actual serving of tea. This sake ewer was used to hold sake during such tea ceremony meals. Ewers intended for this purpose were originally made using lacquer or metal, and porcelain examples like this one are rare.

First, note the vivid colors—blue, green, yellow, purple, and red. The handle and spout are in different shades of blue. The pale blue designs on the handle are painted using a blue cobalt pigment and then coated with transparent glaze. Blue-and-white glazing techniques were at the center of Japanese porcelain production when it began in the early 17th century. In contrast, the more vibrant and glossy blue designs on the spout were painted using overglaze enamels after the ewer had been coated with transparent glaze and fired in a kiln. This decorating technique using overglaze enamels developed from around the mid-17th century.

The wide variety of other designs are equally noteworthy. Geometric designs are interspersed with motifs including plum trees and birds. Even the green background design is densely packed with painted flowers, although sections of the ewer are also strikingly left white.

The bottom of the ewer is also decorated with a blue design in overglaze enamels. This design was actually painted to conceal a crack thought to have formed when the ewer was fired. The ingenuity of the artist, who created an intricate array of color and design and yet also incorporated even accidental cracks into his work, adds to this ewer’s charm.

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