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Meiji Imari ware bowl

Date: 1868-1912
Overall: 90 x 245 mm
Medium: Porcelain
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Ceramic bowl
Object No: 00040530

User Terms

    A Japanese Imari ware bowl from the Meiji period decorated with a central image of a Dutch East Indies Company ship.
    The repeated motifs of a Dutch ship and European merchants are directly related to the period (1653 - 1799) when ships and officials of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) purchased Japanese porcelain for export to Europe.The trade in porcelain formed an important part of the rich trade from Asia to Europe and is a lasting testimony to the technological skills of Asia throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

    SignificanceThe VOC (Dutch East India Company) was the major trading company in the Asian region in the 17th and 18th centuries and the only foreign company to gain a foot hold in Japan, having a compound on the island of Deshima.
    Produced during the Meiji period in Japan, this bowl also represents the opening of Japan to outside influences and greater trade.
    HistoryImari is the name given to the famous Japanese porcelain produced in Arita, Hizen province (modern Saga prefecture) on the island of Kyushu. The name Imari derives from the name of the Japanese port town from which the porcelain was shipped.
    The Dutch East India Company (VOC) started purchasing Japanese porcelain in 1653 and continued to export porcelain until cessation of the company in 1799. Thereafter Imari porcelain was exported privately. During this period Japan was a closed nation, trading only with China and the Dutch (who were permitted a base on Dejima Island).
    This bowl was produced during the Meiji period in Japan, the 45-year reign of Emperor Meiji, running from 1868 to 1912. During this time, Japan started its process of modernization and the era became known as the "Period of Enlightened Rule." Prior to this period Japan had existed in what was referred to as a 'locked state' or Sakoku, refusing entry to Westerners and foreign influence. Although Japan had initially associated with the Portuguese, including Catholic missionaries, the spread of Western religion saw Japanese borders close shut again in 1639 as Japanese rulers feared its growing influence.

    The Dutch VOC were permitted limited trading rights but they were not permitted entry to mainland Japan. In 1853 saw the arrival of Commodore Mathew Perry of the United States Navy who was charged with negotiating a treaty allowing American trade with Japan. Initially resistant to this approach, Japan faced the subtle military pressure from Perry's armed vessels. After a second visit in 1854, a treaty was signed and over the next decade Japan slowly received more overtures from other nations.

    This influence of opening of Japan's borders is a feature of the Meiji period and the porcelain produced during that period shows a growth in subject matter, style and shape.
    This bowl central decorative image feature is known as a 'Black Ship'. This was the Japanese name for all Western ships and refers back to the black pitch painted hulls of the first Portuguese ships to visit Japan. The name was later applied to all subsequent visiting Western ships. The figures around the border are Dutch merchants however and, based on their hairstyle and dress, are more likely from the mid-18th century. The design of the Dutch ships and Dutchmen was popular in the Imari ware and such bowls were produced through 18th and 19th centuries.

    In addition to the clearly European influence of the Dutch ships and figures, there are strong Japanese motifs used on the bowl also. The background pattern of a peony flower refers to its significance in Japan. The peony represents wealth and prosperity as well as bravery and honour. Used in conjunction with the merchant theme of the bowl, the peony pattern here suggests that great rewards can come from great risk.
    Appearing in the border around the central image of the Black Ship is a Ryu or Japanese dragon. This dragon is serpent like and in Japanese culture a dragon usually lives in the sea. It is traditionally associated with wealth and power and the direction of the east.

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