In the West, our knowledge of 17th-century Japanese porcelain has been filtered by the many Kakiemon and Imari pieces from Arita that were exported to Europe, and the copies made of them by Dutch, German, French, and English factories. Domestic Japanese porcelain tells a very different story. The great peace established by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of modern Japan, in 1615 after 100 years of civil war, promoted prosperity, increased literacy, and growing consumerism.
Astute entrepreneurs commercialized all aspects of Japanese culture, and these developments were reflected in a new, optimistic, and flamboyant hedonism. The spread of education stimulated a publishing boom. Illustrated books containing up-to-date imagery of beautiful women, botanical studies and textile patterns, both domestic and from China, became accessible to artisans decorating porcelain, even in far away Arita.
In conjunction with newly imported enameling techniques and other innovations brought from China, they used these manuals to create exciting patterns and motifs. Porcelain manufacturers worked for a highly competitive and fashion conscious elite of samurai overlords, wealthy temples, and successful merchants. To succeed, their wares had to have bold, innovative patterns, with eye-catching imagery that was unconstrained by the design requirements of the export markets. Little is known in the West of these domestic wares, which today often serve as exemplars of the genius of traditional Japanese design.
Sebastian Izzard is President of Sebastian Izzard LLC, an independent, New York-based company specializing in Asian art, with a particular emphasis on Japan and Korea. The company has organized numerous exhibitions of Japanese and Korean art in New York, the most recent being Paintings, Prints, and Illustrated Books of the Floating World in March 2016. Dr. Izzard is a specialist in Japanese prints and paintings and was the former Head of Japanese and Korean Art at Christie’s New York. He has served as a board member of the International Ukiyo-e Society (based in Tokyo, Japan), for whom he has curated and written the catalogues for two shows: Hiroshige: An Exhibition of Selected Prints and Illustrated Books and Kunisada’s World. Dr. Izzard is a founding member of the Japanese Art Dealers Association of New York and a member of the Art Dealers Association of America.