Important Cultural PropertyLidded fahua jar depicting herons and lotuses

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  • Jingdezhen kilns, China
  • Porcelain
  • Height 47.5 cm, diameter of mouth 20.0 cm, max. diameter 34.6 cm, diameter of base 21.9 cm
  • Ming dynasty (China), 15th–16th century
  • Kyushu National Museum
  • G122

This fahua jar was produced in China during the Ming dynasty. It features a ground of indigo glaze, on top of which lotus flowers are depicted, interspersed with wave and heron motifs. Fahua refers to the general decorative technique used on this jar. A subcategory of tri-color glazed ceramics, fahua is distinguished by the use of lead glazes applied within segments of raised slip outlines. As lead glazes are non-viscous, glazes of different colors would mix; the raised outlines thus serve to separate sections where different colors of glaze would be applied to prevent mixing of colors. The colors used on this jar include purple, blue, green, and white. In addition, certain parts of the design, such as the lotus flowers, are rendered using a technique known as byakudan nuri, whereby gold foil or powder is pasted onto a middle surface of lacquer, and then covered in a layer of transparent lacquer.

The origins of fahua as a technique are unclear. Some experts associate it with the widespread production of tri-color glazed building decorations in the region around Shanxi Province, while others have pointed out its similarities to bronze vessels decorated with cloisonne. The byakudan nuri technique, on the other hand, is often seen in Cochin ware, which is created primarily in southern China. The relationship between fahua and Cochin ware, however, remains unclear. Fahua works usually fall into one of two categories: ones with ceramic substrates and ones with porcelain substrates. Porcelain fahua vessels were mostly produced in private kilns in Jingdezhen, where imperial kilns were also located, from the fifteenth to mid-sixteenth century.

Fahua works account for a relatively small portion of the countless Chinese ceramics and porcelains that have made their way to Japan. For this reason, they were treated as rare works of art and passed down carefully through generations of upper-class families. Some famous examples include a water container depicting lotus flowers, owned by the Rokuonji Temple (better known as Kinkakuji Temple) in Kyoto, and a jar depicting a man riding a horse, which was originally passed down in the Aoyama clan, and is now in the collection of the Tokyo National Museum.

This work was designated a National Treasure in 1936 under the old system, and reclassified as an Important Cultural Property in 1950. It was once put up for sale by Fujita Kōsetsusai in an auction organized by the Osaka Art Club on 5 April 1934, where it was purchased by Ikedo Sōzaburō of Kōsandō. Subsequently, it passed through the hands of several art collectors, including Tomita Kumasaku, Toda Taizō, Mayuyama Junkichi of the Mayuyama Ryūsendō. Apart from this work, the only other fahua work that has been designated an Important Cultural Property is a jar depicting birds and flowers owned by the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka.