Hizen ware, Nabeshima type: porcelain with underglaze blue, and over-glazed iron-red and colored enamel decoration

Edo period, Hōei/Shōtoku eras (1704−16), Diameter: 7¾ in. (19.7 cm), Provenance: James Alexander Scrymser (1839−1918), acquired in Japan in either 1898 or 1899, and thence by descent

Nabeshima wares were made only for domestic consumption, and for presentation purposes rather than for actual use. The dishes were produced in three basic sizes, the two smaller ones in sets of twenty or thirty, with a single larger serving dish to match. With occasional variants, these were decorated in three ways: underglaze blue and white; underglaze blue and white with celadon glaze; and underglaze blue and colored enamels. Great efforts were expended on quality control and many dishes were fired and discarded as substandard. The designs were outlined in underglaze blue and then repainted in over-glaze colored enamels and iron-red, in an imitation of Chinese doucai (joined colors) wares first developed in the fifteenth century. The dishes were for official use of the Nabeshima daimyo and their retainers, or for presentation to the Tokugawa shogunate, and could not be commercially bought and sold during the Edo period (1615−1867).

The present shallow dish on a raised ring foot is decorated in underglaze blue, a pale blue wash, green and yellow enamels and iron-red, with a design of a wind-blown spray of cherry and a stylized cloud. The exterior of the dish displays the classic Nabeshima cash and comb-tooth design: three groupings of six linked coins on the body and a comb pattern circling the raised foot. Many of the designs in Nabeshima ware were inspired by the local flora around the official Ōkawachi kiln site. Blooming cherry represents spring, renewal, and death as well as being a potent symbol for Japan itself. As such, a number of cherry blossom-themed designs for dishes are known, of which Japanese scholars consider the present pattern to be one of the most successful and representative of the mature period of Nabeshima porcelain production.1

James Scrymser was a 19th century entrepreneur who made his first fortune promoting and laying cable connections between Cuba and Florida. He went on to develop cable and later telegraph connections between Latin America and the United States, competing strongly with British companies engaged in similar business pursuits. In the autumn of 1898 he was invited by the Meiji government to visit Japan to discuss the feasibility of laying undersea cables between Japan and the West Coast of America. He returned in spring 1899. It is on this journey that he is thought to have acquired the dish, either through purchase or possibly as an official gift. It has subsequently passed down through his heirs to the present owner.

1. Imaizumi Motosuke 1966. Iro Nabeshima to Matsugatani (Colored Nabeshima and Matsugatani Wares). Tokyo: Yuzankaku, pl. 109, p. 198
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