New Acquisitions: 2016
The Oribe style began in the Mino area with a splash—of copper-green glaze, that is—and ended with a trickle. During its short life, the style took urban markets by storm, as excavations have shown: quantities of Oribe-style tableware and tea utensils have been uncovered from sites of merchants’ shops in Kyoto and food stalls in Osaka. In its heyday during the first three decades of the seventeenth century, the lavish mode of decoration combined prominent patches of copper-green glaze with pictorial or geometric motifs brushed in iron brown. By mid-century, its popularity had faded, and the last vestiges of Oribe green appeared as thin trails of glaze, like those on this bowl.
This serving bowl completes the dramatic story of the Oribe style at the Mino kilns as told through the Freer collection, which includes a rich variety of representative vessels. A 1620s footed bowl that Charles Lang Freer bought exemplifies the last use of Oribe glaze on a tableware form meant for the urban market. This bowl, made perhaps a few decades later at kilns in the village of Kasahara, was directed at rural consumers with more modest budgets.
The Kasahara area had been a locale for production of “mountain bowls” (exemplified by another gift from Pamela and Carl Green) in the thirteenth century. In the sixteenth century, Kasahara potters using an advanced type of single-chamber kiln became the first in the Mino area to make copper-green-glazed ceramics—the prototypes of the wildly popular Oribe ware. The fortunes of kilns making Oribe ware declined in the seventeenth century, however, under the new rule of the Owari Tokugawa house, which favored the kilns at Seto, also within its territory. Using a severely simplified mode of production, potters at the Kasahara kilns made plainly glazed bottles, dishes, and bowls. Their most elaborate and distinctive product was this kind of serving bowl, decorated with a floppy brush dipped in iron pigment and a bamboo tube used to trail the Oribe green glaze. Such bowls served rural households, most importantly at large family meals for weddings, funerals, or memorial services.
Scholars had long puzzled over the origins of the Oribe style in the midst of the subdued Japanese ceramic taste of the early seventeenth century. Recently, through archaeology, they have discovered that great quantities of brightly glazed southern Chinese ceramics were imported to Japan in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Scholars since have reconsidered how those exotic imports inspired Japanese consumers, merchant middlemen, and potters. This serving bowl distantly echoes the Chinese imports’ impact on Japan.