Nabeshima ware dish with design of reeds in mist, seven-sun size


Clay: porcelain.
Glaze: partial celadon.
Decoration: design of reeds in underglaze.

Historical period(s)
Edo period, 1700-1740
Porcelain with cobalt pigment under colorless glaze, celadon glaze, and iron pigment on unglazed clay
Arita ware, Nabeshima type
H x W: 5.7 x 20.3 cm (2 1/4 x 8 in)
Japan, Saga prefecture, Arita, Okawachi kiln
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


Nabeshima ware

To 1964
N.V. Hammer, Inc., New York. [1]

From 1964
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from N.V. Hammer, Inc., New York. [2]


[1] Curatorial Remark 1 in the object record.

[2] See note 1.


Clay: porcelain.
Glaze: partial celadon.
Decoration: design of reeds in underglaze.


1. Purchased from N.V. Hammer, Inc., New York, N.Y. For price, see Freer Gallery of Art Purchase List after 1920.

2. (A. Yonemura, 1980) This plate appears to be identical to one still in the Tanakamaru Zenpachi collection in Fukuoka, Kyushu. The Tanakamaru plate was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in November 1979, and is published in color in the catalogue by Nagatake Takeshi: Japanese Ceramics from the Tanakamaru Collection (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1979) no. 38. Since Nabeshima ware dishes of this type were usually made in matching sets of 10-20, the Freer example and the Tanakamaru plate are likely to have come from the same set.

3. (LACort, 1983) Japanese experts differ in their dating of the plate with the same design (and presumably from the same set) in the Tanakamaru collection. In the catalogue of that collection (see entry 2), Nagatake calls the plate "early 18th century." Yet the same motif, rendered in the same manner--partially in cobalt and partially in iron on the biscuit (called sabi-e [Jpn]), in a process that presumably made use of resist--appears on a small molded plate that is dated to the 17th century (Ko-Imari no subete, page 91).

For a Nabeshima design, this one is treated in an exceptionally naturalistic way, with the wash of underglaze cobalt and the bands of celadon arranged to suggest depths of mist within which the autumn-withered reeds seem to hover.

Sekai Toki Zenshu (1978, vol. 8) fig. 209, gives the vaguest date: "latter half of 17th c. - early 18th c."

Late 17th or early 18th century" is added to the period.

4. (LACort, 1983 -- from an exhibition label -- "Summer Whites.") The autumnal motif of withered reeds enveloped by mist is rendered with realism unusual in a Nabeshima design, wherein natural motifs are usually abstractly composed. Iron pigment applied directly to the roughened clay surface conveys the brittleness of the dried leaves, while the use of both cobalt wash and a band of celadon suggests the depth of the mist.

Dishes measuring 7 sun (about 8 inches) in diameter were a common size of Nabeshima ware.

Added Arita to attribution.

5. (LACort, 1986) Added Hizen, Arita; deleted Arita. After Decoration: added Comb pattern on foot, three shippo motifs on underside of rim. Delete late 17th or early 18th century. Add second half 17th century -- early 18th century.

6. (LACort, 1986, from an exhibition, "Garden Potteries and Official Kilns: Clan-Sponsored Ceramics in the Edo Period") This technical tour de force combines underglaze cobalt with rust and celadon glazes.

7. (LACort, 1986) With regard to the stylistic inspiration for this and other Nabeshima plates combining underglaze cobalt decoration and celadon glaze, attention should be paid to the sort of Chinese 17th-century porcelain that uses that same combination. Of a vase in Sir Michael Butler's collection, representing the "mature K'ang-hsi (1662-1722) style," Margaret Medley writes that it "opens up a new chapter in its bold use not only of blue and red [overglaze enamel], but also of celadon green, in addition to which the surface itself is carved and contoured" ("Artistic Innovation in a Conservative Craft: Seventeenth Century Chinese Porcelain," Arts of Asia July-August 1986, p. 65).

8. (LACort, April 1991) Another dish of this type was acquired by the Millikins from Joseph U. Seo, New York, in 1961 (Catalogue of the Severance and Greta Millikin Collection, Cleveland Museum of Art, 1990, no. 134). Possibly the two dishes came from the same set of five.

9. (LACort, November 1993) Imaizumi Imaemon XIII commented that this is an authentic early piece.

10. (Dr. Kudo Yoshiro, Kawasaki, Japan, Nabeshima collector; 18 September 1995) This dish dates to the Genroku era (1688-1704).

11. (Louise Cort, 30 June 2003) The date is changed to follow entry 3, above, and to agree with that sugested in entry 10.

A simpler and seemingly earlier version of this reeds-in-mist motif, using cobalt, iron, and celadon, but without a design on the reverse, appears on a smaller dish (d. 15.0 cm) that is described as "shoki [early] Nabeshima" by Nishida Hiroko in the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts catalouge, Imari and Nabeshima ware (1998), 128.

12. (HKaplan as per LCort, 14 July 03) Medium changed from "Glazed porcelain underglaze cobalt, iron pigment" to "Porcelain clay with cobalt pigment under colorless glaze, celadon glaze, and iron pigment on unglazed clay."

13. (LACort, 28 July 2003) Title changed from "Plate, footed, in 7-sun size" to "Dish in 7-sun size."

14. (Louise Cort, 11 April 2005) Dr. Kudo Yoshiro publishes the dish in the Tanakamaru collection (Nabeshima [Tokyo: Ribun Shuppan, 2005], p. 118, no. 107) and dates it to the early Genroku period (1688-1704), circa 1688-1695.

15. (Louise Cort, 16 October 2008) The same cobalt-rendered "cash" pattern for the back of the dish appears on dishes dates to 1690-1720 by Ohashi Koji and colleagues (Nabeshima: Porcelain for the Shogunate [Arita: Kyushu Toji Bunkakan, 2006], nos. 104-106, 108-111, 114-116).

Changed Date from Late 17th-early 18th century to 1690-1720.

16. (Louise Cort, 12 August 2009) According to Ohashi Koji, Kyushu Ceramic Museum, this is Nabeshima ware and dates to the peak area of production, 1700-1740, more precisely to the 1720s. The edge of the footrim is rounded.

The length of the comb pattern is indicative. The early style leaves a large gap between the ends of the "teeth" and the bottom of the foot. The closer to the bottom the teeth reach, the newer the piece. The method of rendering changed, in the second half of the 18th century, from outlining the teeth then filling them in, to simply drawing them with a single painted line.

The motif on the back is shippotsunagi. It was used on Nabeshima wares made as gifts for shogunal officials (zotohin), whereas pieces made for the shogun bore motifs of peonies and vinescrolls (botan karakusa). The annual presentation (kenjo) of Nabeshima porcelain to the shogun was made every year in the eleventh month. The shogun received 82 pieces, his son received 82 pieces, and other pieces were presented (zoken) to senior advisors and other shogunal officials, for a total of about 2000 pieces per year.

Changed Date from 1690-1720 to 1700-1740.

17. (Louise Cort, 21 April 2010) According to Nicole Rousmaniere, curator, British Museum, another dish with this design is in the Royal Ontario Museum. The Imaemon Museum at the Imaizumi Imaemon workshop has several pieces of the same design as well as sherds from the kiln site.

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