Essays and Articles

Japanese ceramics - Satsuma

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Satsuma pottery (Satsuma yaki) is a major variety of Japanese pottery originally produced in Satsuma province in (now modern day western Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu) during the early Edo period (1608-1868).

Stylistically and historically, pieces can be divided into two main categories; early ceramics dating to the first half of the 17th century that were purely functional and usually devoid of decoration, and later, heavily decorated 19th century export pieces designed to appeal to appeal to Western aesthetics of the time.

The earliest pieces were made from iron rich clay glazed in dark tones and were intended first and foremost for everyday use.


Satsuma ware tea caddy, Edo period circa 17th century

As a rule they tend to be simple utilitarian wares including bowls, dishes and storage pots, although a number of high quality examples dating from the latter half of the 17th century survive that were created for tea ceremony use.

An esoteric field of study in their own right, old Satsuma examples are extremely uncommon and are highly sought after by collectors and museums today with the few pieces that appear on the market routinely achieving high prices due to their rarity.

Most commonly seen today are later Satsuma wares created during the latter half of the 19th century during the late Edo and Meiji periods.

Utilising a rich colour palette of deep red, blue, green, yellow and orange; usually set against a beige toned crackle glazed ground these pieces are well known for their extensive gilding and oftentimes extremely finely painted motifs.

Satsuma pottery tea bowl, Edo period, sold at Christie's

Designed to be highly decorative in nature and usually made in the form of vases, sculpture, tea and coffee sets and platters for display, 19th century Satsuma ceramics were intended to serve as both functional items and as flamboyant art objects within the homes of their owners.

Quality varies widely in later pieces, ranging from the finest one-off examples displaying some of the most delicate painting and gilding ever seen in Japanese ceramic design all the way down to cheaply made mass produced wares utilizing basic motifs and patterns deliberately created to appeal to the Western tourist trade.

Satsuma pottery tea caddy with gilt and red design, available at Kazari

Under appreciated throughout much of the 20th century, Satsuma ceramics now represent a remarkably good opportunity for the modern day collector, with fine examples still being readily available at very reasonable prices compared to other classical Japanese ceramic varieties.

 

 



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