Subject:Re: Re: Japanese Pottery Kutani ? Arita? Help !!
Posted By: Robert Sun, Sep 18, 2005
Interesting dish! However, certain aspects such as the kiln grit and what seem to be chatter marks on the foot, not to mention the shape of the piece makes me wonder about a Kutani (and even a Japanese) attribution. In any event I am not an expert, and Kutani is still an attribution that is tossed around a lot but upon which we do not seem to have firm footing yet. Nowadays the name Kutani is associated by most people with the late 19th century red and gold enameled wares. Originally, as you know, it referred to enameled ceramics made in Kaga rather than Arita (Hizen), places fairly far apart geographically. Characteristically, these earlier wares (some made perhaps as early as the 1630s) had an asymmetric central decoration (as in your piece) with outlining in black or matte brown enamel (also often used to dress the mouth rim) and painted in deep, brilliant enamel colors, particularly green, turquoise blue-green, mustard yellow, and purple, sometimes with smaller areas in blue enamel (by the way, current scholarship suggests that this early Japanese blue enamel is similar if not identical to the Chinese blue enamel used from the late Ming/Transitional period), and sometimes a dry cherry to brownish-red enamel (which is missing from the Aote or “green-style” Kutani pieces). It should also be noted that some “Kutani” thought to be early has underglaze blue (sometsuki) like your piece, in addition to the overglaze enamel colors. The literature on early Kutani (ko-Kutani) is very confusing and inconsistent, added to by the supposed revival or actually several revivals of the style beginning in the early 19th century. One of the problems is that everything called ko-Kutani could not possibly have been made in Kutani, a remote, mountainous village on Honshu, in the 17th century (the old Kutani kilns are thought to have been in operation only for a relatively short period of time from about 1630-40 to about 1700). Another argument for this position is the wide variety of clay bodies associated with pieces attributed to Kutani village. These vary from relatively thin, high fired porcelain (as yours seems to be), through heavy porcelainous stoneware to bodies that are not far removed from earthenware. The base glazes and shapes of the pieces also vary greatly. Some have a base glaze that shows as a faint bluish or greenish-toned white (e.g., like the typical Imari body) others are milk or egg shell white (Kakiemon body); some have no crackle, while others have profuse crackle; some have base glazes that are glossy, while others are matte. Searches of old Kaga kiln sites have turned up numerous shards that suggest the early production of stoneware and porcelain in the area, but not much evidence for the classical ko-Kutani types, such as the famous large dishes. Many theories have been proposed to account for this, some more farfetched than others: e.g., Chinese enamellers (along with their technology and materials) were brought to Kaga (or to a larger nearby town) to decorate bodies imported “in the white” from Arita! Current scholarship (led primarily by the Japanese and a few Western researchers, e.g., Oliver Impey) is tending to the conclusion that much of what has been called old Kutani is actually old Arita ware in a “Kutani” style. This style can also be seen as having a mixture of outside influences, also quite diverse, such as from Chinese late Ming and Transitional enameled wares, Korean punchong wares (i.e., in certain stylistic aspects such as the use of small diaper or filler ornaments for patterning large open surfaces as seen especially in the Aote (Ao)-Kutani wares), and in addition the influences of the early Kyoto artist-potters. Interestingly, compared with Arita, Imari, and even Kakiemon porcelain, not much really early ko-Kutani wares appear to have been exported from Japan, except perhaps some to South Asia (by the Chinese?). Would not the Dutch traders who exported huge quantites of porcelain from Arita in the second half of the 17th century have purchased these brilliantly colored wares had they been readily available there? If made in Arita at all, could the bulk of ko-Kutani wares have been made after the Dutch were expelled? As I see it, more research needs to be done, especially in the area of comparative physical-chemical analysis of the so-called ko-Kutani wares and shard samples (especially those with enamels) from the different kiln sites. In the meantime, it might be best to keep an open mind, viewing old Kutani as a wonderful amalgam of diverse styles rather than a production attributed to any one geographical location.