Hexagonal Jars with Over-glaze Enamel Design of Birds and Flowers

Organization control number
Number of members
A pair of jars
Place of production
Imari ware (Arita), Hizen province
Era century
Edo period, late 17th century
Item shape
Kyushu National Museum
Each hexagonal jar has three design patterns: a phoenix and maple tree; plum blossoms; and a phoenix and pine tree on each panel. A Chinese plant motif with flowers is arranged on the shoulder and lid. An elegant and exotic atmosphere is created by the bright colors of the designs glazed on the milky white base. These jars, produced in Arita in Hizen province (present-day Saga), feature the Kakiemon style. Each hexagonal jar was produced by connecting six clay panels. Potters in Arita successfully created colored glaze porcelains by the 1640s. There was a boom in collecting Chinese porcelain ware among members of the royalty and aristocracy in Europe at that time. However, Chinese exports to Europe drastically fell due to turmoil from the change of dynasties from the Ming (1368–1644) to Qing dynasty (1644–1912). The Dutch East India Company, responsible for trading, began purchasing substitutes from Arita. It initiated full-fledged imports in 1659 and demanded high product quality. Potters in Arita strove to learn innovative techniques to produce high-quality and sophisticated porcelain ware in response to this demand. The Kakiemon-style porcelain is the crystallization of these efforts. Around the 1670s, the Kakiemon kiln developed nigoshide, a high-quality ceramic base for glazing. To produce the nigoshide, a new method was invented. After thoroughly removing the iron component from the glaze, it was thinly applied on the shaped clay workpiece. Each piece is then encapsulated to prevent stains or deformation during firing in the kiln. On the base, delicate and graceful designs are painted in red, blue, green, yellow, gold, and purple glaze. Blank spaces are left between designs so as to exhibit the beautiful milky white base. This new style, known as the Kakiemon style, spreaded across Arita. It took no time before these Kakiemon-style porcelains began to fascinate the European aristocracy. In palaces and castles across Europe, salons and dinner tables were embellished with porcelain works imported from Arita. Their popularity is evidenced in the fact that its imitations were produced during the 18th century in many European ceramic production centers, including Meissen, Chantilly and Chelsea. Jars similar to these are in the custody of Hampton Court Palace, owned by the British royal family. These pair of jars represent the full glory of Kakiemon-style ceramics, produced in the golden age of Imari ware when they attracted the keen attention from the European nobility.