Serving bowl with handle in the style of Oribe ware
The Freer Gallery’s collection of Japanese ceramics is rich in historical works from the Seto kilns and those in adjacent Mino. This abundance led to the publication of Seto and Mino Ceramics (Washington, DC: Freer Gallery of Art, 1992, distributed by University of Hawai’i Press), one chapter of which is titled “Tea-ceremony ceramics made by amateur potters at Seto-related kilns.” As this volume explains, engagement in pottery production by amateur aficionados, typically tea practitioners, began in Japan in the early seventeenth century. Among the earliest-known amateur potters was the calligrapher Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637), who collaborated with the Raku workshop in Kyoto to make tea bowls. The Freer collection includes a Black Raku tea bowl made by Kōetsu (F1899.34) as well as numerous works in the Kōetsu style.
With economic revival in the late eighteenth century came a surge of interest in amateur pottery production at regional kilns. Seto was notable for the involvement of many warriors of the Owari Tokugawa domain in such cultivated amusements (F1898.439). Another important phenomenon of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the revival, by professional potters at many regional kilns, of ceramic styles that had been well known in the Momoyama period (1568–1615). At that time, the Owari domain also included the Mino kilns, and leading potters at Seto kilns revived the famous Momoyama-period Mino styles of Shino, Yellow Seto, and Oribe.
This serving dish incorporates both phenomena. It was probably made by an amateur rather than professional potter, and it “revives” a shape and mode of decoration and glazing closely associated with Oribe ware of the early seventeenth century, including two serving dishes with handles in the Freer (F1967.21, F1960.30). The Oribe format combined areas of iron-painted decoration with large patches of bright green copper-tinted glaze. Like the historical prototypes, this smaller serving bowl was meant for use in a tea gathering or associated meal. A knowledgeable potter probably guided the painting and glazing of the vessel to create an interpretation, rather than a direct copy, of the historical model. The painted decoration based on the triple-aoi crest of the Tokugawa family suggests that the dish’s maker was a warrior of the Owari Tokugawa domain.
Of particular value for parsing the nature of “Momoyama revival” wares made by amateur potters is the fact that this dish bears, on the base, a well-written date (Kansei era first year, or 1789) and the maker’s name, Kagenori. It may not be coincidental that the name incorporated the graph kage, referencing the given name of Seto’s semi-legendary founding potter, Katō Kagemasa. Further research is required to identify the maker’s identity, but this dish is a key to understanding objects of this sort in the Freer collection as well as the full range of such extant works.