Square Dishes with Various Designs

  • Edo period
  • 18th-19th century
  • Kenzan ware
Square Dishes with Various Designs (Set of 10)

Square Dishes with Various Designs (Set of 10)
This set of square dishes presents the world of shigajiku, hanging scrolls of paintings with Chinese poems, with designs employing floral and landscape motifs: orchid, sasanqua, peony, licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), rose, grape, bamboo, and landscapes. Kenzan's original intention was to use these dishes as a means for bringing the world of the shigajiku to ceramics. He did not, we may assume, initially think that these works would be used for serving food. These low-fired products are more fragile than high-fired wares, and dirt readily penetrates the crackles that form on the transparent lead glaze surface. These, in fact, are not well suited for use as tableware. Nonetheless, as Kenzan's career shifts to the Nijo Chojiyamachi period, when his work had become popular and tableware a major part of his product line, even these low-fired, glazed square dishes came, it is thought, to be used for serving food.
The box for this set of ten square dishes has "Ten large Kenzan square dishes / Kono Kyuzaemon / in Yodo-Osaka Castle / Kono Denbei etc." on its lid. We thus know that these were delivered as a tableware set. Who this Kono was we do not know, but the writing on the box does tell us that this set was sent to Osaka. It is likely that shipments were loaded on boats at the Takase River's Ichinofunairi wharf for transport to Osaka. Since it is noted that the shipping cost would be paid in Edo, we know that these sets ultimately were distributed as far away as Edo. The customers used these as stylish dishes at banquets, and their growing popularity generated rising demand. The stains on the surfaces of these dishes are evidence that they were used repeatedly and that they were fully adequate for use in serving food. The "sei" of the "Shinsei" square Intaglio seal has been identified on a shard of an unfinished square dish with underglaze iron decor excavated at Kenzan's Shogoin kiln site (on the Kyoto University Hospital grounds).