Fan-shaped Kenzan Mukozuke with Various Designs

  • Edo period
  • 18th century
Fan-shaped Mukozuke Dishes with Various Designs

Fan-shaped Mukozuke Dishes with Various Designs
Some underglaze iron and cobalt works have the luster of overglaze enamels. This set has "10 Kenzan fan-shaped mukozuke dishes" written on the outside of the lid of its box; thus, while five now survive, there were originally ten pieces in this set.
The fan shape is complex. The fans are slab built. Look closely and you will see that the inside has been mold formed to add ridges at the bottom, where the folds in the fan paper would be. On the surface of each dish, the trunks and branches of the trees are rendered in underglaze iron and the flowers in underglaze cobalt and white pigment. The inner edge has a scattering of the diamond pattern known as tobishi, groups of four diamonds some distance apart, in underglaze cobalt. The rim and the beveled lower edge are edged in underglaze iron. The exterior surface has bands of what seem to be cirrus clouds drawn in white pigment, and, above them, stylized floral patterns (Narihira diamonds) block printed in underglaze cobalt.
These two types of diamond patterns are clearly in the aristocratic taste. Were these dishes commissioned or an attempt to develop new customers? We do not know, but we can sense Kenzan’s knowledge of usages and practices of the imperial court and in the higher reaches of samurai society. The dishes were covered in transparent glaze and fired, leaving the base unglazed. The Kenzan signature is inscribed there in underglaze iron.
The Kenzan signatures are highly calligraphic, and their style indicates they were written by three different hands. The fine white clay body has been, we can seen, fired so that it has vitrified. Given the calligraphic Kenzan signature on wares with painterly decoration, one is inclined to assign these mukozuke to his Narutaki period. The flowers of the four seasons - plum, cherry, bellflower, hydrangea, camellia (or perhaps sasanqua) - are depicted. The blue of the underglaze cobalt creates a bright, vivid atmosphere.