Thursday, January 5, 2012

Introduction to Imari

We have a special appreciation for Japanese Imari porcelain. My Great-great Grandfather, named Albert Belding traveled to Japan in 1905 as a teacher. While he and his wife, Irene, were there he developed the Kobe School of Business, which is still in operation. Irene was the one to start our family in the legacy of collecting Imari when she returned home with Albert fifteen years later, with several crates of the exquisite pottery. While those pieces have stayed in the family collections, as art dealers we can't help but buy up great pieces of Imari as we find it and display it for sale at the shop.
A brief history of pottery and Imari in japan will help you to understand the elegance of these fine dishes. In the mid to late 16th century Lord Hieyoshi, during a war called "The Tea Cup War", invaded China and captured many potters and craftsmen to start the now famous potteries in Japan. Then in the early 17th century Lord Nabeshima used those craftsmen and hired Korean Potters to start the manufacture of porcelain in Japan for the first time.
The most famous kilns were in the region of Arita and many of these original kilns are still in operation today. Imari pottery was the lovely white porcelain with blue and white decoration that was selected for trade in the port of Imari, just North of the region of Arita (note: Arita ware is a name given to another type of pottery from the Arita region which I will discuss in a later post).
While the Imari Porcelain at this time was hues of blue under glaze, in 1644 Dutch traders from the Dutch East Indian trading Company were in search of something new to trade since their sauce trade had diminished. These traders requested that the potters of Arita to decorate their lovely plates and bowl with a pattern they appreciated from the heavily brocaded fabrics the traders saw the japanese Women wearing in their Kimonos. This encouraged the potters of Arita to develope new color glazes and patterns in Deep Blue, Green, and Red/Terra Cotta. The result was a fine painted pottery that became loved by Kings and Queen all over Europe and highly demanded and traded so much so that today there is said to be more Imari in Europe and the West than in Japan.
Shachikuai is a most common design motif of bamboo and plum. Botan (botanicals), Ayo (fish) and Kame (cranes) are other traditional motifs on Imari. I have also seen rabbits, octopus and shrimp used in other whimsical pieces of 18th-20th century Imari dishes.
Sometsuke is the name of the oler decoration method which is hand painted in under glaze blue. Iroe or Akake is the name of the style in which blue, green and red are hand painted in under glaze on white porcelain. Nishiki-de is the style in which gold is painted on Iroe style pottery.
The variety, the color, the many shapes and patterns are elegant and whimsical and always remind me of ingenuity and passion. All of this makes Imari and great collectible. (Imari is food safe but not microwave or dishwasher safe)

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