Rare Japanese Cloisonné Charger

Mid-1800s. (Edo period)
12¼” h 12¼” w 1¾” d

This charger is quite old and rare. It is hard to pin down the age of old Japanese pottery art because for centuries, until the emperor was restored to power in the early 19th C, Japan was a feudal state, ruled under the Shogun with myriads of daimyos(feudal lords) who not only owned all the land but also all the properties and people on them. The artisans worked for these daimyos and they cannot put their own name or seal on anything they created. In order to explain the dating, a little history and technical aspect of cloisonné production needs to be given.

It has always been supposed that the art of cloisonné-making in Japan came from China, maybe during early 17th C. In the beginning, only small objects, such as sword guards and jewelry were made. By the middle of the 19th C, bigger pieces were produced, with Kaji Tsunekichi (1803-1883) being credited with the renaissance of Japanese cloisonné. Kaji was trained as a samurai at a time when the nation was closed off from the outside world and ruled by military dictatorship under the Shogun. When the feudal system was coming to an end, Kaji had to turn to doing something else to make a living. He chose to learn how to make cloisonné, which was made popular under the Chinese emperor Qianlong (1735-1795).

From the beginning, many objects were made of thin, hammered brass plates. To give the shape more stability, the objects were decorated with enamel on both sides. The wires between the enamel-filled cells were made of bronze hammered flat for a long time, resulted in split wires. These thin wires were soldered on. Later, the wires were drawn and they were thicker and glued on. In Japan, almost no solder was used after 1680. This plate appears to have split wires that were soldered on, and like early cloisonné, has a matte finish. Other evidence of old age is the presence of many tiny pits, caused by gas escaping from bronze when it was heated in the furnace. Later, mostly copper was used as it was less affected by this problem. The early cloisonné, therefore, is easily recognizable by its many pits and unevenness. There are very few old pieces which are in good shape.

The designs and colors on this plate also help to shed light on its age. At first, while the Chinese background was always bright turquoise, the Japanese was a dark green, as on this plate. The main motif is a falcon, sitting on a pine branch. This motif is seldom seen on enamel-ware, Chinese or Japanese. It’s possible that this plate was made for a daimyo who enjoyed falconry, a noble sport, placing this plate then no later than the middle of the 1800. The other motifs are both Chinese and Japanese: the cherry and paulownia flowers, clouds, waves and mountains. The cloud design is of special interest. The curling style is of Japanese Middle Edo period (1750-1800), which happens to look very similar to cloud style of Ming dynasty. Early Japanese artisans admired Ming ceramic and cloisonné. The colors on this plate are all basic early enamel colors. The dark green background is beautifully set off by motifs in brilliant turquoise, cobalt blue, cinnamon red, and “Ming pink”.

With all the evidence given, we conclude that this charger was probably made when Japan was still a feudal state, so it is old and quite rare.