New Acquisitions: 2016
Jar with stamped and slip-inlay decoration
At the end of the sixteenth century, Korean potters established numerous kilns in southern Japan. This well-known story is controversial, as some consider the potters to have been prisoners of war captured during the Japanese invasion of the peninsula. But without doubt, these immigrant potters transformed the ceramics industry in Japan.
The kilns they built in the Karatsu region in northwest Kyushu began operating at least a decade earlier than those in other areas. There, the immigrant Korean potters introduced the buncheong stoneware tradition. Stout, low-slung jars such as this one continued a shape characteristic of buncheong ware. They were coiled on a slow-turning wheel, then thrown to finish the shape. The resultant vessel was durable and rather heavy for its size. Some jars made in this way at Karatsu kilns were glazed with rice-straw-ash glaze, which produced a characteristic milky-blue hue; others bore abbreviated decoration painted in iron pigment under a wood-ash glaze.
The Korean potters also bequeathed a mode of decoration, shown on this jar, that became remarkably popular and long-lived in Japan. The so-called mishima style involves stamping or incising motifs into the vessel wall, then filling them with white slip before applying a wood-ash glaze. Here, a simple pair of incised lines frames a row of flower-head stamps. Firing in a smoky kiln brought out a green tint in the glaze. Long, loving use has polished the surface to a glossy patina.
Mishima quickly became a distinctive feature of jars and tea bowls made at Karatsu kilns and others in northern Kyushu, and it still appears on wares made throughout Japan. Charles Lang Freer was drawn to Karatsu and other northern Kyushu ceramics, acquiring forty-four pieces altogether. His selection, however, somehow did not include an early Karatsu jar bearing the mishima format. This gift adds an early example of the popular mode of decoration to our collection.