Home > Collections > Japanese Art
Tea bowl with design of mountain retreat
mid 18th century

Ogata Ihachi (Kyoto Kenzan II) active 1720-1760)
Edo period

Buff clay; white slip, iron and cobalt pigments under transparent glaze; gold lacquer repairs
H: 7.3 W: 10.0 cm
Kyoto, Japan

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1896.99

Enlarge this image | Purchase this image

The poem reads: "In tranquility, the universe is great." The conflation of a vast entity with a small bounded space is a common theme in Zen poetry, and ultimately derives from the early and influential Daoist test Zhuangzi (ca. 3d century B.C.E.) A ceramic prototype with this expression can be seen in kosometsuke, the late-Ming cobalt-decorated porcelains imported into Japan in the early-Edo period. Here, since half the poem is on the outside and half on the inside, the full measure of the verse—and its relation to the enclosed space of the vessel, which "becomes" the universe in metaphor—is revealed either through drinking or otherwise handling the bowl. Serious poetic appreciation thus merges into mischievous "parlor" humor, with parallels in painted sake cups that reveal comical faces or other figures as they are tipped.