Ogi Kazuyoshi and Murakami Nobuyuki, Imari Tanjo to tenkai – Sosei kara sono hatten no ato wo miru (Tokyo, 1998), pl.33
BY OHASHI KOJI, DIRECTOR EMERITUS, KYUSHU CERAMIC MUSEUM
Shoki Imari – early Imari ware- was first developed in the early 17th century, in the city of Arita located in the west of Kyushu Island, Japan. Its basic form, techniques and texture are similar to those of Korean porcelain as Korean technicians were the first to find porcelain materials in Arita and consequently started porcelain ware production in Japan. During this time a large quantity of blue and white porcelain from Jingdezhen, China was being imported. Jingdezhen pottery, recognisable by its thin and sharp forms, had been in demand from the Japanese upper class since the 16th century. Blue and white pottery decorated with a variety of vivid blue motifs was particularly popular.
Shoki Imari potters, the first of whom were Korean technicians, largely produced white porcelain without blue decoration. They were influenced by the decorative motifs in Jingdezhen porcelain which they adapted for their own work. Earlier Imari period, c. 1610-1630s, porcelain ware borrowed motifs from the Chinese pictures books Bazhong Huapu (Hasshu Gafu) and Tuhui Congyi (Zue Soui). This mix of influences from the picture books and Jingdezhen porcelain resulted in the unique design of Shoki Imari ware.
Shoki Imari was Japan’s first porcelain ware and used Korean techniques whilst seeking the quality of Chinese porcelain. Shoki Imari ware was distributed around Japan to compete with the abundance of imported Chinese porcelain. From the 1630s, there was an increase in porcelain production in Arita due to the decline in ceramic manufacturing. The Nabeshima clan of Saga Domain who controlled the Arita kilns expelled eight hundred and twenty six Japanese potters from ceramic manufacturing in 1637, which saw the closure of all four kilns in the Imari district and seven kilns in Arita. This in turn, resulted in the unification of the kilns in the east side of Arita. Thus, with the closure of the ceramic kilns of Karatsu ware, the focus moved towards porcelain production. It is believed that Saga Domain acted in such a way as they envisaged an (imminent) rapid growth in porcelain production.
This transpired seven years later with the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and the establishment of the Qing dynasty, which suffered from insurgency of Ming loyalists in the south. The turmoil in the south affected the world’s largest porcelain manufacturing sites such as Jingdezhen ware in Jiangxi Province and Zhangzhou ware in Fujian Province which both witnessed a significant decline in overseas export. The shortage of Chinese porcelain in Japan prompted an increase in production at the Saga Domain’s kilns which led to their monopoly of the Japanese porcelain market by the 1640s. During this period, Arita produced many Shoki Imari masterpieces, mainly in the form of plates decorated with motifs from Jingdzehen ware. Plates formed an integral part of Japanese tableware as side dishes along with bowls used for rice and soup. There are many impressive examples of Shoki Imari plates with larger varieties, up to forty centimetres in length, produced in the Yanbeda kiln in Arita, at the special request of members of the upper class.
Early Shoki Imari ware visibly displays the influence of Korean manufacturing techniques, seen with the form and texture of flasks. However, the late 1640s to 1650s marked a shift in technique towards the Chinese method, due to Chinese potters from Jingdezhen fleeing the turmoil of the dynasty change from Ming to Qing in 1644 and settling in Japan. Chinese potters introduced techniques such as enamelling and biscuit firing leading to thinner and sharper forms in Imari ware.
As a result, throughout the 1650s, the more traditional production of Shoki Imari ware using Korean techniques gradually decreased. A demand from Europe relayed through the Dutch East India Company, for substitutes for Jingdezhen ware consolidated Chinese techniques. Biscuit porcelain production began in Arita and by the late 1650s there was a large market of exports to Europe. Eventually, traditional elements of Shoki Imari disappeared, replaced with Japanese motifs or designs based on foreign influences at Dutch request.
Kazuyoshi and Nobuyuki (Tokyo, 1998) mention this is one of the largest early bowls and very refined with its small ring foot. An elegant aspect is also the gohon (pinkish mottling).
For a similar large dish see Toguri Museum of Art, Early Imari Ware (Tokyo, 1997), pl.4 p.10
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