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YUAN DYNASTY (1279-1368)

YUAN DYNASTY (1279-1368)
The jar is heavily potted and well carved in relief around the sides with four panels enclosing seasonal flowers: camellia Japonica, peony, lotus and chrysanthemum, above a band of banana-leaf around the base. The shoulders are set with three zoomorphic monster masks modelled in high relief with bulging eyes and brows and reserved on a diapered ground in imitation of woven rattan. The neck is carved with diamond-shaped diaper and all panels are conjoined by strapwork borders. The jar is covered overall with a thick glaze of bluish sea-green tone with the exception of the mouth rim, the inside of the base and the foot rim which remain unglazed.
11 3⁄4 in. (29.8 cm.) high, four brocade covers, Ming dynasty, Japanese double-wood boxes
The Hisamatsu Family Collection, an important Daimyo family in Ehime prefecture that ruled during the Edo period (1603-1867)
A Japanese private collection, gifted by the Hisamatsu family in 1955 (fig. 6)
Sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 May 2018, lot 3028


Marco Almeida (安偉達)
Marco Almeida (安偉達) SVP, Senior International Specialist, Head of Department




Treasured Jar for the Most Precious Tea – A Rare Early Ming Longquan Jar (an excerpt)
Rosemary Scott
Independent Scholar, Visiting ceramics research fellow, Palace Museum, Beijing

It may well be the case that this jar arrived in Japan soon after its manufacture in the Chinese province of Zhejiang in the early Ming dynasty, since such pieces were greatly prized in Japan and many fine Longquan celadons were imported for appreciative Japanese patrons. Important vessels were preserved with care and handed down to succeeding generations, either within families or within temples. The current Longquan jar would have been particularly treasured not only for its rare form, but most especially for the exquisite colour of its glaze – an aspect of fine Longquan celadon wares, which has traditionally been revered by Japanese connoisseurs.

The current jar was gifted to a Japanese private collector in 1955 by the important Hisamatsu family, who as daimyo or hanshu in the Edo period (AD 1603–1868) were feudal rulers of Iyo Matsuyama-han – present day Ehime prefecture in Shikoku Island. This significant role was held by 15 generations over a period of some 235 years.

The Matsudaira (Hisamatsu) family were keen practitioners of the tea ceremony, and even today, the region of Iyo Matsuyama, over which the family ruled, is still known for the numbers who take part in the tea ceremony. The current jar can be seen against this background of tea connoisseurship and the appreciation of special objects for use in the tea ceremony by the Hisamatsu family. This Longquan celadon jar was reserved for the first fine tea of the year. The tea leaves were picked in spring and were matured in the jar during the summer. The mouth of the jar would have been tightly sealed using a wooden plug covered with several layers of paper, which would have been tied in place. The short neck and flanged mouth of the current jar would have made it particularly suitable for this. One of the surviving records, see below, suggests that such jars may have been suspended under the floor in a net bag – possibly to keep them cool during the heat of summer. The first tea ceremony of the year, known as Kuchikiri-no-chaji (literally ‘mouth cutting tea ceremony’) is held in early November. Before the ceremony the bamboo hedges and water troughs in the garden of the tea room are replaced. In the tea room itself, the paper of the shoji sliding doors is replaced and new tatami mats are put on the floor. In preparation for the ceremony, the tea leaf jar is given a fine silk cover called a kuchioi held in place with a decorative rope called a kazario. During the ceremony the silk fabric cover is carefully removed, the paper is cut and the wooden plug taken out to provide access to the tea inside the jar. The new tea leaves are ground into powder with a pestle in a stone mortar before being used to prepare the tea.

It is very rare that a Longquan celadon jar is used for this purpose, however, there are some historical references to such jars. A letter from the famous tea master Sen-no-Rikyu to Shunoku Soen (1529-1611), abbot of the Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto, described the tea utensils used in a tea ceremony held by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-98) at the emperor’s palace on 7th October 1585. Sen-no-Rikyu noted: ‘...a kinuta tea leaf jar in a net under the floor’. Kinuta in this instance refers to Longquan celadon, as this was the term used for the fine Longquan glaze which was associated in Japan with kinuta (mallet-shaped) vases. Certain inventories such as Matsuya-Meibutsushu , which was compiled by the merchant Matsuya Hisashige (1567 – 1652), and Kokon-Meibutsu-ruiju, compiled by Matsudaira Fumai (1751-1818), the daimyo of Izumo Matsuyama-han, listed Longquan kinuta celadon jars as tea leaf jars. A rare example of such a jar is today preserved in the Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo. (fig. 1)

Such was the value placed on the current jar, and those similarly used for the leaf tea of the kuchikiri-no-chaji ceremony, that valuable Ming dynasty brocades were used to provide the decorative top covers of the jar. As noted above, several layers of paper were used beneath the silk cover, which would have protected the precious brocade. The top covers themselves are significant and valuable items, which add greatly to the important history of the jar. Each cover preserved with the current jar is made of a different silk fabric, two of them including so-called ‘flat-gold’ weft threads.

The beautiful cloud-patterned damask cover (fig. 2) represents a design which was especially popular in the Ming dynasty, and became famous as Nanjing yunjin. It was sometimes used for the clothing of members of the Chinese aristocracy, and a robe made from a yellow silk satin damask with this design was excavated from the tomb of Wang Zhiyuan – a relative of Lady Wang, who was Xiaozhen Empress to the Chenghua Emperor (r. 1465-87) – which was found outside the Zhonghua Gate, Nanjing (illustrated in Power and Glory: Court Arts of Chinas Ming Dynasty, San Francisco, 2008, p. 70, no. 30).

In the late Yuan and Ming dynasty the yunjing cloud design was also sometimes combined with smaller depictions of the babao Eight Treasures. A late Yuan dynasty example of this design can be seen on a piece of damask cloth illustrated by Gao Hanyu, et al., in Chinese Textile Designs, (Rosemary Scott and Susan Whitfield translators), London, 1986, p. 88, no. 61, while two duan satin damask Ming dynasty examples are illustrated in the same volume on page 107, nos. 85-6. It is interesting to note that this combination of motifs appears to have been the inspiration for the unusually small-scale design on the gold and ivory cover (fig. 3) belonging to the current jar.

The polychrome damask cloth with cloud-edged roundels set against a complex lattice of blue and green (fig. 4) is both rare and interesting for its association with other media. The ground pattern composed of hexagons entwined with circles is rare amongst textiles, but the same structure can be seen on an imperial blue and white porcelain tile excavated in 1993 from the Xuande strata at the imperial Jingdezhen kilns in Jiangxi province, illustrated in Xuande Imperial Porcelain excavated at Jingdezhen, Taipei, 1998, p. 122, no. F21. The magnificent blue and gold silk brocade used to make the fourth cover (fig. 5) for the current jar has a floral scroll design that has a long history amongst fine Chinese woven silks that goes back at least to the Song dynasty – see for example the Northern Song ivory ling twill damask illustrated by J.C.Y. Watt and A.E. Wardwell in When Silk Was Gold Central Asian and Chinese Textiles, New York, 1997, p. 49, no. 11. The brocade example used for the jar cover, however, has a boldness that is especially associated with the Yuan and early Ming dynasty. A Ming dynasty deep blue brocade with a similar golden design to that seen on the jar cover is in the collection of the Xinjiang Museum and is illustrated in by Wu Min in Zhi xiu, op. cit., p. 216, lower image.

The current jar, with its extraordinary glaze, is not only a remarkable example of the finest celadons made in the early Ming dynasty, but is of great significance for its history within an important Japanese family. It is also of cultural significance for the part it has played in major tea ceremony events. The silks from which its decorative covers are made are, in addition, rare and important items in their own right, as well as demonstrating yet another facet of the role played by the decorative arts of China in the Japanese tea ceremony.

(For the complete essay, please visit

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