Important Cultural PropertyLarge Vase in Shape of Gourd Design in overglaze enamel and gold

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  • Jingdezhen ware
  • Ming dynasty, 16th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • TG-3054

  Decorated in overglaze enamels, this porcelain vase was fired in the late 16th century during the Ming dynasty, when China’s Jingdezhen kilns were at their height. Porcelain featuring a red enamel base with gold decoration was used in a variety of goods, including bowls, jars, ewers, and stationery tools. These were created not only to meet domestic demand in China, but also to be exported abroad to areas like Europe and Japan. The period’s gilding techniques often resulted in the gold decoration flaking off over time, but many of these works have been extremely well-preserved in Japan. This is likely thanks to them being treasured and passed down by tea masters and wealthy merchants since the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573–1603). For example, fragments of this type of porcelain have been excavated from the site of Manju-ji Temple (Oita City), a family temple of the Ōtomo clan, which was one of the most powerful feudal families on the southern island of Kyūshū.
  Shaped like a gourd, this vase has a round upper part and a square lower part. All four sides of the upper and lower sections of the vase have decorative frames for individual scenes. Inside the frames, flowering plants and what appear to be people are depicted in gold on the vase’s red background. The vase’s neck is also red, but features a gold arabesque pattern. The spaces around the framed areas are tightly packed with geometric patterns in red overglaze enamel, such as linked circles and triple hexagons in a Y-shaped configuration. The shoulder is decorated with four evenly spaced roundels, each containing an auspicious Chinese character for happiness, longevity, health, and safety. The base of the vase is flat and bears an inscription inside a circular cartouche in underglaze blue that reads, "Fine vessel for the rich and honorable."
  In Japan, porcelain decorated in gold is affectionately referred to using the textile term “gold brocade” (kinran-de), and several examples exist, though this magnificent vase is considered to be one of the most impressive among them.