Kenzan Mukozuke with Cryptomeria-in-Snow Design

  • Edo period
  • 18th century
  • Kenzan ware, high-fired pottery, overglaze enamels
Catalogue Entry

Snow-covered tree designs in Japan can depict either pine trees or sugi cryptomeria trees. This work depicts two cryptomeria trees blanketed in snow, with the outline of the dish following the shape of the trees. Mold-formed, the dish was coated in white slip, and then underglaze iron was used to draw the trunks of the trees. The exterior side surfaces were also coated in white slip and decorated with underglaze iron broad-brush strokes. The dish was coated with transparent glaze overall and fired at a high temperature. After this main firing, green overglaze enamel was used to depict the cryptomeria foliage area, and gold pigment was brushed around the base of the trunks to depict the ground. The gold pigment has since flaked off. The back surface has three hexagonal or septagonal-shaped attached conical feet, and the base edge of each foot was left unglazed. The marks of the carving tools remain clearly visible on each foot. In the center of the dish back, a “Kenzan” signature drawn in underglaze iron is placed in a white slip tanzaku poem paper-shaped frame that is bordered with a single line of underglaze iron. Fine crackling has formed in the glaze overall and there are several pinholes in the white slip areas, giving the dish a softened surface feel. There are pale ash blue colored spots of puddled transparent glaze on the back surface that formed beautifully in the firing. As in the snow-covered pine tree design dishes shown here as cat. nos. 136 and 137, the underglaze iron usually brushed around the mouth rim edge of this type of dish has been omitted here, leaving the mouth rim light and furthering the sense of complete snowy coverage. While this work is thought originally to have been part of a set, it is the only known extant dish of its type. The formation techniques seen and the “Kenzan” signature handling are all typical of a mukozuke dish made during the Nijochojiyacho period.

Mukozuke Dish with Snowy Cryptomeria Design

Mukozuke Dish with Snowy Cryptomeria Design
This mukosuke seems to be asserting that pine trees are not the only design associated with snow - the cryptomeria (Japanese cedar) is too. Two snow-covered cryptomeria trees are overlapped in this composition, which forms the shape of the dish.
The dish was mold formed and white slip was applied as the ground for painting the trunks and branches of the trees in underglaze iron. White slip was also applied to part of the underside, with hakeme brush marks brushed into it. A transparent glaze was applied to the entire piece. After the glaze firing, green overglaze enamel was applied to depict the cedar foliage. While somewhat difficult to distinguish at first glance, gold pigment has been applied to the base of the trunk and the earth below it.
The underside has three six or seven-sided pyramidal feet attached. Only their bottom edge is unglazed, revealing the clay. The Kenzan signature is inscribed on a rectangular poem slip form on a ground of white slip, outlined in underglaze iron. The transparent glaze has fine crackles throughout, and some pinholes have developed in the slip. The texture of the delicate glaze is remarkable, while the pooling of the beautiful gray-green translucent ash glaze on the base is also one of the highlights of this piece. To highlight the snow on the pines, the iron pigment rim that was one of Kenzan's fortes is omitted. Careful thought went into this design.
This mukosuke was probably part of a set, but no other examples are now known. Given the forming method and the way the Kenzan signature was applied, we can position this piece as indicating the classic Nijo Chojiyamachi period style. This snowy cryptomeria motif is similar to the Tatsutagawa motif of the previous piece, the chrysanthemum motif (Gotoh Museum, Tokyo; Fukuoka Art Museum collection), and the snowy pine motif (Yuki Museum of Art, Osaka; private collection). Kenzan's mukozuke with gold pigment from his Nijo Chojiyamachi period are thought to have been created as special orders and thus are a rank above other pieces from that period.