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Made in Japan: Kakiemon and 400 years of porcelain - British Museum

Made in Japan

Exhibition preview

THE BRITISH Museum’s forthcoming Asahi Shimbun Display, Made in Japan: Kakiemon and 400 years of porcelain, is open to the public from June 23 to August 21, 2016.

This Asahi Shimbun Display celebrates fifteen generations of porcelain production in Arita by showcasing work by one of the most famous potting dynasties.

This year is the 400th anniversary of the birth of porcelain in the town of Arita in Saga Prefecture and the show will feature, among other examples, a new work decorated with acorn branches by Sakaida Kakiemon XV (b.1968) representing his coming of age as an artist that he created specifically for the British Museum.

Featured in the display is an original film made by the British Museum at the Kakiemon kiln, which allows viewers to see and feel through the actions of the potters how Kakiemon porcelain is actually created.

The Kakiemon (pronounced ‘ka-ki-e-mon’) kiln is still modeled on the traditional Japanese early modern workshop system. Succession is based on the principle of iemoto or ‘head of the household’, the oldest son inheriting and sustaining the brand and workshop. The current head of the kiln is Kakiemon XV. He recently received the title following the death of his greatly admired father Kakiemon XIV in 2013.

Historically, the Kakiemon workshop produced some of the most exquisite porcelain for export to Europe and the Middle East, notably in the later 1600s.

In 1647, Sakaida Kizaemon was credited with introducing the overglaze enameling technique to the Arita porcelain kilns, making advanced porcelain production possible and starting the potting dynasty. He was thought to have learnt the secrets to overglaze enameling on porcelain from a Chinese specialist in adjacent Nagasaki. This success earned him the name Sakaida Kakiemon I – which derived from kaki or persimmon after the orangey-red colour of the most important overglaze enamel.

Japan was a late starter to porcelain production compared to China and Korea, but it quickly made up for lost time. Japan benefitted from domestic turbulence in China and was able to start exporting to Europe and elsewhere through the Dutch East India Company.

The classic Kakiemon style, lasting from 1670 to 1700, is defined by its refined yet sparse decoration executed with bright overglaze enamels in a palette of orange-red, green, blue and yellow.

Made in Japan

Some of the most exquisite porcelain is on view in this display such as Boy on a Go Board, dating c.1670-80. This figurine was specifically created with a distinctive creamy-white porcelain body called nigoshide, the formula for which was developed by the Kakiemon kiln. The contrast in colours and tones emphasises the brightly coloured enamels. A 3D model of this figurine can be viewed at online.

Kakiemon grew in international popularity in the late 17th century, and became particularly valued in England during the reign of Queen Mary II (1686-1694) who was passionate about the Kakiemon style. Classic Kakiemon style in Japan ceased production in the 18th century, but its popularity continued and the style was reproduced in China and in Europe, examples of which can be seen in this display.

There was a revival in the mid-20th century of traditional Kakiemon style due to the ingenuity of Kakiemon XII and Kakiemon XIII. They rediscovered the forgotten techniques and created a renaissance for the nigoshide creamy white porcelain used earlier with Boy sitting on go board.

Kakiemon XIII was awarded the high honour from the Japanese government as a ‘Living National Treasure’ for his revitalisation of classic Kakiemon style. His son, Kakiemon XIV continued the legacy of his father while also developing the Kakiemon brand through inspired naturalistic designs. Kakiemon XV is now poised to take the revitalised Kakiemon legacy forward.

A series of lectures and events will accompany the exhibition.

Image (top): Boy on a Go Board, Kakiemon Kiln, later 17th century.

Image (bottom): Sakaida Kakiemon XV, Large bowl with Azaleas, created in 1996.

Admission: Free.

British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG


Also at the British Museum: Sunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds (until November 27, 2016).