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New Acquisitions: 2016


The copper-green glaze known as Oribe, seen on the Mino ware bowl also donated by Pamela and Carl Green, can be traced to a bright-green Chinese glaze imported to Japan in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Curiously, copper-green glaze also came to be used on vessels made at kilns in the Karatsu region of southern Japan. The connection between the two copper-green glazes has not yet been brought to light.

At workshops around the city of Takeo, part of the Karatsu-ware production area, potters favored copper-green glazes or decoration in copper-green and iron-brown. Whereas the off-white Mino clay could be used alone, Takeo-area potters typically coated their local dark-brown stoneware with white slip to provide a ground for decoration.

Charles Lang Freer was drawn to pottery from this area, and he purchased no fewer than twelve “Takeo Karatsu” wares. Two more such pieces since have been added to the collection: the Greens’ gift and a bowl recovered from Borneo, documenting the ware’s role in seventeenth-century trade between Japan and Southeast Asia. On both bowls, the earlier lavish use of copper-green glaze had been reduced to a thin trail.

The seventeenth century did not mark the end of use of copper-green glaze at the Takeo Karatsu kilns, however. A distinctive pictorial mode of decoration using copper-green and two shades of iron-brown continued vigorously into the twentieth century at Takeo Karatsu kilns, notably those near Yumino village. Sturdy serving bowls and vats such as this one were the characteristic products.

On one side of this vat, the thick trunk of an ancient pine tree with “forever young” copper-green boughs grows diagonally from the base to the rim. Finger-marks trailed in the white slip near the base suggest ocean waves or a stream. On the opposite side, rocks and foliage sketch a landscape. With these auspicious designs, this vat and others like it ornamented country kitchens, in which they held water or other materials. Its single large pine tree, however, distantly evokes the grandeur of the backdrop painting on a stage for a No drama performance.

Japan, Saga Prefecture, Karatsu ware, Yumino kilns
Edo period, 19th century
Stoneware with white slip and iron and copper pigments under clear glaze
H x D: 27 × 36 cm
Gift of Pamela and Carl Green

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