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Antique Lamps – Kakiemon – A Story Of Harmony And Balance

Author : Maurice Robertson

Submitted : 2010-04-15 04:24:58    Word Count : 1008    Popularity:   63


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Kakiemon, pronounced, Kak i eh mon, is all about balance, a small range of distinctive colors, known as “the palette”, pure white porcelain and a perfect eye for harmony.

In the world of art and design, colour is important, in fact, of primary importance, with many specific colours bearing the name of their originator. The sublime palette of Kakiemon enamels is a key example.

Kakiemon’s color range is small, but distinctive, delicate, balanced and in perfect harmony. The palette composed of iron red, cerulean blue, turquoise green, yellow, aubergine and gold, however, it is the iron red aspect of the palette from which our story unfolds…

The setting is 16th century Japan, the year 1596 and the founding father of the celebrated dynastic family of Japanese potters, Sakaida Kizaemon, (1596 1666), is born.

Working in the ceramic heartland of Japanese ceramics, Arita Province, it was Kizaemon, who, achieving a range of “firsts”, opened a new window to the world of ceramic art.

The extremely fine, pure white body, (Nigoshide), is believed to have been exclusive to the Kakiemon kiln and Kizaemon was, unquestionably, not only a master potter, but could “see” colors that literally, as enamels, did not exist.

Japanese art, with its long history, has always drawn its inspiration from the world of nature, with each changing season offering a new range of colors and ideas. Kakiemon wares are usually painted with natural subjects such as birds in branches, flying squirrels, the “quail and millet”, grasshoppers, moths and garden insects. Very often seen are the “Three Friends of Winter”, (pine, prunus, and bamboo), trailing flowers, and banded hedges. The chrysanthemum, the national flower of Japan, is a very common subject.

Human subjects are rare; some have been given titles such as the “Woman and the Nightingale” and “Hob in the Well”, a title given by 18th century England! This decoration was based on a popular design derived from the story of a Chinese sage saving his friend who had fallen into a large fishbowl.

It was from the natural world that Sakaida Kizaemon produced his “iron red” by capturing the delicate red color and texture of the persimmon, (kaki), on porcelain. He is traditionally believed to have introduced over glaze enamelling on porcelain to Japan in the 1640s and in recognition of his dedication and artistic achievements, was awarded the honorific name of Kaki emon, or, Kakiemon.

Kakiemon porcelains can be typified by :

a)hexagonal or octagonal shapes

b)An iron brown dressing, (fuchi beni), which was applied to the edges of many Kakiemon porcelains to embellish and protect the rims from being chipped.

c)pure white porcelain

d)a colorless glaze

e)widely spaced decoration placed with a perfect eye for harmony and balance.

The Kakiemon family remains porcelain makers and skilled decorators right up to today with only the eldest son inheriting the family name and special skills.

Kakiemon XIII, (1906 1982), was designated as an important cultural treasure of Japan in March 1971 and Kakiemon XIV, born in 1934, the 13th descendant of Sakaida Kakiemon, was designated a Living National Treasure of ceramic decoration in July, 2001.

History is like the tide, with the rise and fall of events and the story of Kakiemon is about to take a rise!
China was the source of all porcelain to the West, with a vast output being exported to Europe. At this time, Japanese porcelain was unknown, let alone the beautiful porcelains from the Kakiemon kilns.

In the early 17th century, Imperial China was in complete political chaos with the turmoil of the closing years of the Ming dynasty. The dynasty completely collapsed in 1644 and the production of export porcelain to the West came to a halt. It would be thirty years later that the production of export porcelain would resume.

The Dutch, at this time, were the great merchant trading sea power, who, with a concession trading port, exported vast amounts of Chinese export porcelain to Europe, all produced at the great kilns of Jingdezhen.

When production stopped, the merchant fleet turned to Japan. The Dutch merchant fleet was the only Western nation allowed to trade there and had their trading port on Deshima Island, in Nagasaki Harbour. Remember, it was at this time that Japan was closed to the West in an effort to contain European influence and it was only from these designated ports that trading could take place.

In fact, the production of Japanese porcelain had only a half a century’s history before the Dutch East Indiamen arrived and it was not long before the Dutch trading fleet, laden with Japanese porcelain, was heading for Holland.

The arrival of the “new” Japanese porcelain was a revelation, as very little colored porcelain had been seen, with most of the Chinese export having been blue and white wares.

This was Japan s export high peak with virtually no competition. Kakiemon soon became the most prized and certainly the most expensive porcelain in Europe, becoming de rigueur in the princely palaces of Northern Europe, and despite the price, was the style most sought after by the rich and famous!

The sleeping dragon, however, was waking, and China’s chaos had subsided with the establishment of the Manchu dynasty and the long and productive reign of the Kang Xi Emperor. The great kilns at Jingdezhen were reopened and the thriving business of export porcelain to the West commenced.

Japanese Kakiemon porcelain, with its export to Europe, became the most influential ceramic decoration towards the end of the 17th century; the shapes, the decorative style and exquisite palette were copied by all the most important 18th century European factories, including Meissen, Chantilly, Chelsea, Bow and Worcester.

Kakiemon continued to influence European decoration throughout the 18th and into the 19th century and is still being reproduced by the most famous porcelain makers today.

Author's Resource Box

A Samson of Paris Kakiemon style lamp can be seen on the company’s web site. The Antique and Vintage Table Lamp Co specialise in antique lamps with an exclusive on-line range of over 100 unique lamps. Lamps are shipped ready wired for the US, the UK and Australia. For further information you are invited to visit their web site at -: © The Antique and Vintage Table Lamp Co 2010

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