Wine jars are used to offer sacred wine to the gods, and usually come as a pair. This jar was made in a kiln run by the Nabeshima clan, who governed the Saga domain during the Edo period (17th–19th century). As the domain’s official kiln, the Nabeshima kiln produced porcelain of the highest quality to be presented to the shogunate family and other high-ranking daimyo as gifts. To this end, the kiln mostly produced dishes adhering to strict specifications regarding size, but also took special orders from the shogunate family and the Nabeshima clan for custom-made objects.
This jar depicts several auspicious motifs, including a pine tree, a plum tree, and bamboo on one side, as well as a crane, a turtle, and a mandarin orange tree on the other, all rendered in brilliant overglaze enamels. The combination of two auspicious motif sets, a pine-plum-bamboo set and a crane-turtle set, is one commonly seen on Edo-period kimono robes and lacquerware, often adorning celebratory attire and wedding trousseaux. This jar, too, was likely made-to-order for the wedding of a member of the shogun’s or a daimyo’s family. The sophisticated enameling technique used here tell us that it was created at the Nabeshima kiln during its peak. Subsequently, the eighth shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (r. 1716–45), enacted a series of sumptuary laws clamping down on the production and consumption of overly luxurious goods, all but bringing about the end of elaborately decorated Nabeshima ware. It is thus highly likely that this work was produced in the late seventeenth to early eighteenth century, before those policies were put in place.
This jar was donated together with a jar of similar shape and décor to Kyushu National Museum by the late antiques collector and merchant Sakamoto Gorō (1923–2016). As there are no extant works alike to these in the world, coupled with the fact that they are similar in shape and size, it is likely that they were created as a pair. In addition, they are the only two wine jars created in the Nabeshima kiln that we now know of, making them extremely rare. Also noteworthy is how in recent years, we have discovered a jar similar to this work depicted in a pair on an offering tray on the left screen of a pair of folding screens titled Tanabata (owned by the Okura Museum of Art), illustrated by Kaburagi (also spelled Kaburaki) Kiyokata (1878–1972).