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Ninsei Nonomura
(Japanese, c. 1574-1660/66)

Tea 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.

Nonomura 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.

The shape 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.

This jar 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.

Asia Society, New York, New York, USA
No. 1979.251
Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection

Index terms
Decorative Arts and Utilitarian Objects

Related documents:

Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], 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. 76.

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