VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Water jar (mizusashi)
191-1877
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

This mizusashi (fresh-water jar) from Bizen is among the finest examples of Japanese ceramics in the V&A. This particular fresh water jar is a strongly modelled. It is a simple yet powerful example of Bizen ceramics produced at a period when the tea master Furuta Oribe (1544-1615) was the dominant arbiter of taste. The potter has been especially successful in giving expression to the inherent qualities of his materials. The heavy body with its deeply incised gashes is accentuated by apparently random but nevertheless controlled glaze effects. The iron-rich clay has burned a deep reddish brown, while ash from the wood used to fire the kiln has settled on the surface, giving added emphasis to the powerfully sculpted form.

History of the Object
Bizen wares were among the first native ceramics to be considered suitable for the Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu). Their aesthetic qualities were specifically referred to by Murata Shuko (c1421-1502), generally regarded as the founder of Chanoyu. Fresh-water jars were widely used by tea masters during the 16th century along with Chinese ceramics of the sort that had been traditionally appreciated in Japan, and also with Korean ceramics which became increasingly popular at this time. These early Bizen wares were everyday ceramics which were 'discovered' and adapted to tea use. Their rustic simplicity reflected the spirit of wabi (the taste for the simple and restrained) which became central to the philosophy of Chanoyu as it developed under Takeno Joo (1502-1555) and Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591). With the growth in popularity of Chanoyu in the Momoyama period (1573-1615) and the increase in demand for tea ceramics, orders were placed with Japanese kilns for purpose made wares. The potter's marks on the inside and base of this particular piece are evidence of the fact that it was fired in one of the large communal kilns introduced into Bizen in the 16th century.

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Type
Decorative Art 
Materials
Glazed stoneware ceramic 
Measurements
Diameter: 20.3cm 
Creator name
Unknown 
Creator date
Unknown 
Where it was made
Japan; Bizen province 
Geography
Japan 
Time period
AD 16th century ~ AD 17th century 
Creation date
16th Century - 17th Century; 1590-1630 
Function
Fresh-water jars were used in the tea ceremony as containers for cold water for ladling into cast-iron kettles. 
Acquisition
It was purchased at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. The fresh water jar was acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1877 along with some two hundred other Japanese ceramics, many of which were also tea wares. These were collected by the Japanese Commissioners for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 at the request of the Museum to illustrate the history of Japanese ceramics. In contrast to the high esteem such objects are held today, the relatively low price paid for the tea wares in this collection reflected the Japanese attitude of the early Meiji period (1868-1912), which accepted western ideas uncritically whilst rejecting many traditional ideas and values. 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum 
Credit line
© V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

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