Japanese / Two Standing Female Figures / Edo period, c. 1670-1690Japanese
Two Standing Female Figures
Edo period, c. 1670-1690

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Name-CRT: Japanese
Title: Two Standing Female Figures
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1670
Creation End Date: 1690
Creation Date: Edo period, c. 1670-1690
Creation Place: Japan, Saga Prefecture
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: Porcelain painted with overglaze enamels, one figure also with traces of gold (Arita ware, Kakiemon style)
Dimensions: Each H. 15 1/2 in. (39.4 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.239 and 1979.240
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Rights: http://www.asiasociety.org
Context: The rapid development and diversification of the Japanese porcelain industry in the 17th century is one of the most fascinating episodes in the history of ceramics. During this period, the city of Arita, located in the Saga Prefecture in Hizen Province on the southern island of Kyushu, became the largest and most important center for the production of porcelain in the world. Several factors contributed to this development. One was the contribution of the many technically advanced potters brought to Japanfrom Korea during the late 16th-century Japanese invasions of that country. Another was the prohibitive effects of the civil disarray in 17th-century China on its ceramic industry, which led Europeans and other customers in search of highly prized porcelains to turn to Japan.

The first Japanese porcelains were painted with underglaze cobalt blue, known as 'old blue-and-white' ware (ko-sumetsuke). But by about 1640, overglaze enamels had been added to the palette. It is generally accepted that overglaze enamels were introduced to Kyushu from Kyoto rather than from China. One reason for this assumption is the use of a vibrant overglaze blue--seen here on these figurines--in both Kyoto ware and Japanese porcelains, a color not found in Chinese ceramics of that period.

The majority of Japanese porcelains are classified as Arita wares, based on the location of their production. Arita wares are traditionally subdivided into Imari, Kakiemon, and Nabeshima styles (although this system is currently under revision). These sculptures of two standing women, painted in the Kakiemon-style palette of pale overglaze enamels, are representative of a popular type of porcelain figure produced in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many examples are found in Europeancollections. The beautiful woman (bijin) theme invoked here was a staple of Japanese ukiyo ('floating world') paintings and woodblocks. In both sculptures, the women wear clothing and a hairstyle popular in Japan during the Kanbun era (1661-1673), when this coiffure and the loose outer robe and black sash were worn by courtesans. The hairstyle, with the hair pulled up and wound around an ornamental pin, is believed to have originated at the court. Their red and white inner kimonos are decorated with a scrolling vine motif, commonly called karakusa or Tang arabesque because it is believed to have derived from 8th-century Chinese traditions. On one figure the background is red and the arabesque is white, while on the other the colors are reversed. The outer coat of one woman is decorated with wisteria while that of the other woman is painted with chrysanthemums that have fallen on swirling waves.

With the exception of the designs of their clothing, these two figures appear to be identical. The bodies of these sculptures were produced using press molds, and the heads and hands wereslip cast for greater delicacy of modeling.

Porcelain figurines of beautiful women, lion-dogs, and ducks were exported to Europe as exotic examplesof the art of Japan, and it is unlikely that their imagery was well understood there. This is particularly true in the sculptures of women, which were often identified as men in early Western publications on Japanese porcelains.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 105.
Related Document Description: Meech-Pekarik, Julia. 'Notable Japanese Ceramics.' Apollo (November 1983), p. 437.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.239-240
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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