Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

The World Turned Upside Down

June 9, 2019

The phrase “everything happens for a reason” makes sense only when one looks backward. It’s cold comfort to anyone facing an uncertain future. Still, some things actually do happen for a reason.

In the early 18th century, for example, French king Louis XIV found himself once again out of money. His costly wars against the English and Dutch (i.e.; the War of Devolution, the Dutch War, the War of the Spanish Succession, etc.) led him to enact various Sumptuary Laws restricting the amount of silver, gold, and other metals that the flock of aesthete nobility around him could flaunt. The Sun King needed precious metals to fill his coffers and base metals to make his cannons.

This situation turned out to be very good for the potters of France, and it’s a fair bet they knew this. After all, their wares could not be melted down into ingots or shot. French potters, inspired and instructed by Italian tin glaze potters, had mastered the “grand feu” maiolica process in the mid 16th century. By Louis XIV’s reign, they greatly expanded their color pallette with the “petit fuefaience enameling process. A host of new, flamboyant styles burst on the scene.

The Rayonant style, inspired by Japanese Imari porcelain (then all the rage) defined French Rococo faience. Armorial plates were a big part of this new French work. Faience parlant (speaking faience), with imagery featuring cartoons and text, was equally popular.

Another unusual style was called Sangerie. It featured monkey imagery – “sange” means “monkey” in French. Prancing, mischievous monkeys hopped across a wide variety of wares. They were so mischievous they hopped across national boundaries to create a continent-wide fashion. Monkeys were seen on English tankards, chopping down trees full of eligible bachelors to the delight of on-looking maidens. In sprawling Portuguese tiled murals, they were livery attendants to sumptuous weddings of hens

An entire genre of prancing, mischievous monkey pottery came into being because of the proclivities of a powerful man with no sense of fiscal responsibility.

Of course this result only makes sense if looked at, mischievously, backwards. If one looks the other way, and tries to discern possible future outcomes of a man who is today in a position of power and who has absolutely no sense of responsibility – fiscal or otherwise – one can only imagine what mischievous results we might end up with…

Marraige of the Hen

Readings:

Tin-Glazed Earthenware In North America. Amanda Lange. Historic Deerfield/Deerfield, MA. 2001.

Gifts for Good Children; The History of Children’s China, 1790 – 1890. Noel Riley. Richard Dennis Publishing/Somerset, England. 1991.

Azulejos; Masterpieces of the National Tile Museum of Lisbon. Editions Chandeigne/Paris. 2016.

Bastard China

June 29, 2014

OK, that title might get some attention.  Perhaps a little context is in order.

Its ironic how many American foods are named after other countries – French toast, English muffins, German chocolate, Spanish rice, Irish stew, Mexican food, Chinese food, etc – yet most nationals of those countries have no idea what these strange American foods are.

A similar phenomenon exists in pottery.  We call many things we make by either their form: plate, bowl, cup, or by their use: colander, teapot, luminary.  But some of our most common glazes carry names of far away people and places: rockingham, bristol, albany (in the 18th/19th centuries), and tenmuku, celadon, shino, oribe, etc (today).

Then there’s tin-glazed white earthenware.  Italians originally called it ‘majolica‘ after the Spanish island of Majorca through which 14th century Italy imported Hispano-Moresque pottery – and Iberian potters.  The French called it ‘faience‘ after Faenza, Italy from which 15th/16th century France imported much early majolica – and Italian potters.  Skipping Holland for the moment, where 15th/16th century faience traveled next – along with French (and Italian) potters – the English called it ‘delft‘ after the eponymous Dutch town – and still more 16th/17th century immigrant Dutch potters.

So what did Dutch potters call this ware?  Trade with China via the Dutch East India Company was hitting its stride just when Delft, Holland became a major pottery center.  Keeping in mind Holland’s fabled marketing sensibilities, the Dutch called tin-glazed earthenware majolica they learned from Italian faience potters ‘porcelain,’ of course.

Customers seeking the cultural trappings associated with high-fired, translucent Chinese porcelain (the real stuff) but who wouldn’t/couldn’t pay it’s high price, soon learned the difference.  Early Dutch ‘porcelain’ was certainly cheap.  It also had a tendency to crack from thermal shock when contacted with boiling hot water for tea.  And why own porcelain if not for drinking tea?  Another name for this peculiar Dutch ‘porcelain’ soon became common: ‘bastard China.’

Reading:

Dutch Pottery and Porcelain. W. Pitcairn Knowles. Scribner’s/New York.

High Tea

July 22, 2012

Modern potters interested in the Japanese tea ceremony know that the truly great early tea wares came from Japanese (and Korean) farmer potters working with materials at hand for a rice economy.

North American farmer potters worked with materials at hand for a dairy economy.  A Tea Master critique of American redware would be interesting. Of course, Sen no Rikyu and the early Masters’ mining efforts ultimately turned their farmer potters into National Living Treasures.  American farmer potters ended up making drain pipe.

But the West did develop its own ‘tea ceremony.’  Time, place and conversation were prescribed – as in Japan – albeit with differences.  Sculpted Asian tea rites derived from ancient meditative disciplines.  Western tea rites derived from parlor etiquette.

The 17th century introduction of tea and its sibling coffee enormously impacted Western society.  Men huddled in coffee houses, debating reality and plotting revolution.  Women sipped tea in parlors, discovering strength in numbers and life beyond their husbands’ dictates.  Cafes and parlors eventually morphed into the salon culture.

This may seem frivolous compared to the solemn atmosphere of chanoyu.  But it managed to loosen the shackles imposed by hyper conservative Christian Orthodoxy just enough for later historians to call that brief time period “The Age of Reason.”  The Western ‘tea ceremony’ even developed its own sculpted discipline of balancing a dish on one’s knee while politely holding an annoyingly teeny handled cup between thumb and forefinger.

Tea propelled pottery to the forefront of Europe’s Industrial Revolution, modifying pottery along the way.  Westerners liked their tea hot (to dissolve sugar in) and served individually.  Thus, by 1760, necessitating that teeny handled cup.  A full tea set eventually consisted of 41 ceramic items: 12 teacups with saucers, 6 coffee cups with saucers, a teapot with stand, a slop “bason,” a sugar “bason,” and a cream ewer.  A two person “tete-a-tete” could be as few as 8 items.  Distinct foods, like crumpets and scones, accompanied the tea.

And it all centered on the tea pot.  Before radio, families gathered around their “brown betty.”  Watch any old English melodrama and notice how much activity occurs near the teapot.  Your tea set’s quality set the tone of your gathering, and helped establish your spot on the afternoon tea circuit hierarchy.

Then again, concern for hierarchy was equally reflected on both sides of the globe.

Readings:

Ceramics in America.  Ian Quimby, Ed.  University Press of Virginia/Charlottesville.  1972.

China-Trade Porcelain.  John Goldsmith Phillips.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge, MA.  1956.

The Geldermalsen, History and Porcelain. CJA Jörg.  Kemper Publishers/Groningen, The Netherlands.  1986.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries.  John Thomas. Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

The Book of Cups.  Garth Clark.  Cross River Press/New York, NY.  1980.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.