(Japanese, c. 1574-1660/66)
Leaf Jar, Edo period, mid-17th century
H. 12 in. (30.5 cm); D. 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm)
Stoneware painted with overglaze enamels and silver (Kyoto ware)
A ceramic industry developed in and around Kyoto in the 16th century,
and the stonewares produced there for the domestic market differ
in shape and style of decoration from the better-known contemporaneous
porcelains from Arita made primarily for export. Both Kyoto wares
and Arita porcelains are often painted with overglaze enamel pigments.
This technique appeared in both places around 1640, and its use
continues to be a hallmark of the Kyoto pottery tradition. Unlike
the anonymous artisans who made Arita porcelains, however, many
of the potters working in Kyoto, such as Nonomura Ninsei and Ogata
Kenzan, played important roles in the culture of that city and
were renowned as artists during and after their lifetimes.
Ninsei (c. 1574-1660/66) was born Tsuboya Seiemon in Tamba, a
province noted for its production of rugged utilitarian wares.
Very little is known about his life. He arrived in Kyoto around
1647 and probably already either had important connections or
some fame as he was permitted to establish a kiln called Omuro
near the south gate of Ninnaji, an important Buddhist temple.
He took the artist-name Ninsei around 1656; the first syllable
of this name derives from that of the temple. Ninsei had close
ties to Kawamori Sowa (1585-1656), one of the most renowned tea
masters of his time, and Ninsei's ceramics, called Omuro wares,
played an important role in Sowa's tea ceremonies and other cultural
gatherings. Ninsei's works are thought to embody the concept of
kirei, or 'refined beauty,' favored by Sowa.
of this storage jar used for tea leaves illustrates Ninsei's ability
to make refinements to well-known forms. The jar is taller and
narrower than most storage jars of this type, and the shape of
the shoulder and four small lugs reflects those of much smaller
tea caddies used to store powdered tea during the tea ceremony.
This innovative shape is one of the most famous designed by Ninsei,
and only ten or so examples are extant, the majority in Japan.
Most have individual names, a measure of the esteem in which they
are held. Used to store tea leaves that had been gathered in the
spring, these jars would have been opened during a special ceremony
in November when new tea leaves were used for the first time.
is made of a reddish stoneware that has been partially covered
with a milky white glaze filled with minute crazing (fine lines
created by the shrinking of the glaze in the kiln). A seal reading
Ninsei is impressed into the unglazed base. Overglaze enamels
were used to paint the seven crows, bamboo, and rocks on the jar.
One crow sits on the ground while the other six are flying. The
crows appear to be quarreling, and their placement over the entire
surface of the jar singly and in groups creates a sense of movement
that is unusual for painted compositions on ceramics. Touches
of silver (now tarnished) were added to the wings of the crows,
enhancing the richness of the surface. The crow is sometimes seen
as a good omen in East Asia, and the depiction of these seven
crows as quarrelsome adds an element of humor.
Society, New York, New York, USA
Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects
Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller
3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, , p. 109.
Meech-Pekarik, Julia. 'Notable Japanese Ceramics.' Apollo
(November 1983), p. 433.
Shimada, Shujiro, ed. Zaigai Nihon no shiho (Japanese Art
Treasures Abroad). Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbun, 1981, vol. 9, pl.
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