Signed Antique Ao-Bizen Chaire

Potter: Signed, unknown, pending further research.

Origin: Bizen prefecture

Age: Mid or late Edo period

Approximate size: W2.8″ by H3.5″ or 14.3 by 7.8 by 8.9cm

It is clear that this ao Bizen, blue Bizen ware tea caddy dates from the late, perhaps middle of the Edo period and appears to have been very well preserved. It features a bulbous, feminine shape not too often seen in Bizen tea caddies. The shape is reminiscent of a hyotan which is a natural gourd historically used for water flasks, bottles and countless other purposes. A all time subject in the Japanese arts. Hyotan are objects that have for ages been object of superstitions, for instance if 6 gourds came together, it would be a sign of good luck. The exterior is decorated with several groves and a unique surface pattern called ishime or ‘stone ground’.

Main styles of Bizen pottery

Goma 胡麻 (lit. “sesame seed) – glaze produced by ashes melting in the heat of the kiln
Hidasuki 緋襷 – rice straw wrapped around an object
Ao Bizen 青備前 – acquires various blue hues due to the amount of reduction during firing

Ao-Bizen can be translated as “blue Bizen”. The ware acquires various blue hues according to the amount of reduction, from light blue (heavy reduction), to brownish (lighter reduction). The method is almost the same as that of “hidasuki”. But at the end of the firing, charcoal is placed on top of the saggars, completely covering them. The burning charcoal consumes the oxygen in the kiln creating a strong local reduction atmosphere. So the only difference between red (hidasuki), and blue is the oxygen concentration during the firing. It is very difficult to control all of the elements needed to create “blue Bizen”, so this color is very rare and prized by connoisseurs.

Bizen is characterized by significant hardness due to high temperature firing, its earthen-like, reddish-brown color, absence of glaze, although it may contain traces of molten ash resembling glaze, and markings resulting from wood-burning kiln firing. The clay found in Imbe is sticky and fine, with a high iron content and, traditionally, much organic matter that is unreceptive to glazing. For some potters this is an inadequate material, since it has weak characteristics such as high shrinkage and relatively low fire resistance. Most Bizen ware is not coated with a glaze because of this shrinkage, since any applied glaze would peel off during the firing process. Due to its low fire resistance it cannot withstand rapid high-temperature changes, so the firing has to be done gradually. However, the soil also has beneficial properties, such as plasticity. The high strength of Inbe clay causes it to retain its form, making it tough even without glaze.

Ishime ground pattern is a frequently seen decorative texture in other types of art as well. For instance; , in Japan it is also frequently used in the scabbard, or saya for the Japanese swords and their fittings (no doubt to its relatively rough surface that allows a good grip).

Ishime surface pattern on a tsuba (Japanese sword guard)

This tea caddy has no chips or cracks and condition is excellent. The lid is of an exceptionally high quality. Comes in a high quality, old shiho-san paulownia tomobako or storage box and the original embroidered silk shifuku, cloth storage pouch. The box has a few dents but fulfills its duty as a protective guard just fine.

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