Rare Perfect Refinement:
The Baron Masuda Donno longquan
Senior International Academic Consultant Asian Art, Asian Art
his vase is exceptionally rare and encapsulates the serene refinement of the Song period. The finest Longquan celadon wares, as exemplified by the current vase, have been revered both in China and Japan for more than eight hundred years and, especially in Japan, have been handed down within families and important temples. The glaze on the current vase represents the best of everything that was admired in a Longquan celadon glaze - it is thick, translucent and has a rich texture reminiscent of jade. The colour of this glaze also has the clear, soft bluish-green colour, which was so highly prized by connoisseurs and yet so difficult for potters to achieve. It required the ideal combination of raw materials, preparation, application and firing in order to produce this perfect colour and texture, and so is extremely rare. This particularly fine glaze type is often known by the Japanese name kinuta seiji, which refers to fine celadon-green mallet-shaped vases, such as the current example, which were imported into Japan in the Southern Song (AD 1127-1279) and Yuan (AD 1279-1368) dynasties, and became associated by connoisseurs with this, most-desired of glaze colours. It has even been suggested that it was the current vase that inspired the use of the term kinuta seiji for these highly prized pieces.
Although the name of this vase shape is based on its resemblance to a paper mallet, in fact it is likely that this form, with its almost cylindrical body, long columnar neck and flattened mouth, was introduced into China from the Islamic West, possibly Iran, as a glass vase or bottle. Fragments of glass vessels of this shape were found in 1997 among the excavated material from the cargo of the 10th century Intan wreck (see M. Flecker, The Archaeological Excavation of the 10th Century Intan Shipwreck, Oxford, 2002). This ship was excavated in the Java Sea, off the Indonesian coast, and contained a large number of 10th century Chinese ceramics, as well as a small amount of Islamic glass and other materials. A whole blown glass bottle of this form, with an almost cylindrical neck, from the Iranian region, dating to the 9th-10th century is in the Al-Sabah Collection (fig. 1)(illustrated by S. Carboni, in Glass from Islamic Lands – The Al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait National Museum, London, 2001, no. 25a), while two slightly later examples dating to the 10th-11th century, also from the Iranian region, but with slightly tapering necks, are in the same collection (illustrated ibid., nos. 35 and 55). An Islamic glass bottle of this form was also found in 1986 in a Liao tomb dated to AD 1018 (see Liao chen guo gong zhu mu, Beijing, 1993, fig. 14-2). The body of this glass bottle tapered towards the foot, while its neck tapered towards the mouth. In view of the shape of the necks and the fact that Islamic glass is known to have entered China in the Tang and Five Dynasties period, it is probably the earlier 9th-10th century Islamic glass vessels which inspired the Chinese ceramic form.
The particular version of the mallet-shaped vase represented by the current vase, which does not have handles, is very rare amongst surviving Southern Song and Yuan dynasty Longquan celadons. In the Northern Song dynasty, the mallet form with wide flattened mouth and without handles was made in two of the ceramic wares associated with the imperial court. A small number of Ding wares were made in this form, and an example with reduced mouth is in the collection of Sir Percival David (illustrated by S. Pierson in Song Ceramics - Objects of Admiration, Percival David Foundation, London, 2003, p. 20-1, no. 1). Perhaps even more significantly, Ru wares of the type made specifically for the Northern Song court, have been found in this form. A mallet-shaped Ru ware vase with wide flattened mouth was excavated in 1987 at the kiln site of Qingliangsi, Baofengxian, Henan province (illustrated in Grand View: Special Exhibition of Ju Ware from the Northern Sung Dynasty, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2006, pp. 114-5, no. 23), while the National Palace Museum, has in its own collection two similar Ru ware vases with damaged mouths (illustrated ibid., pp. 116-19, nos. 24 & 25) (fig. 2). In 2004 this vase form was also found among the pale celadon vessels, closely related to imperial Ru ware, excavated from a kiln site at Zhanggongxiang, Ruzhou, Henan, just south-east of Ruzhou City (fig. 3) (illustrated in Zhongguo chongyao kaogu faxian, Beijing, 2004, p. 156, upper plate).
Links between the finest Longquan celadon vases, such as the current vessel, and the Northern Song imperial Ru wares are also suggested by the fineness and more bluish tone of the glaze on the Southern Song wares – a feature that is also seen on Southern Song imperial Guan ware - and it is probably also significant that, as noted above, Northern Song ceramic vessels of this mallet form made for the court have no handles, and when this form was produced for the Southern Song imperial court in Guan ware at the Laohudong kilns, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, these too were made without handles (fig. 4) (see Du Zhengxian, Hangzhou Laohudong yao zhi ciqi jingxuan, Beijing, 2002, no. 29). The majority of Longquan mallet-form vases had a pair of handles, one on either side of the columnar neck. Most frequently these handles were in the shape of birds, which are usually identified as phoenixes. An example of this type is preserved in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (fig. 5)(illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 33 - Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), Hong Kong, 1996, p. 110, no. 98), while another is in the collection of the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka (illustrated in Masterpieces of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka, 1994, p. 48, no. 23). Less frequently, mallet-shaped Longquan vases were given handles in the form of yulong (dragon-fish) with fish-like bodies and dragon-like heads. A large mallet-form Longquan celadon vase with yulong handles was sold by Christie’s New York, 19 March 2008, lot 561 (fig. 6). A Longquan mallet vase with dragon-fish handle was also excavated in 1983 from a Southern Song tomb in Songyangxian (illustrated by Zhu Boqian (ed.), Celadons from Longquan Kilns, Taipei, 1998, p. 149, no. 116) and another was excavated from the wreck of a vessel which sank off the Sinan coast of Korea in about 1323 on its way to Japan (illustrated in the exhibition catalogue Xin’an haidi wenwu (Cultural Relics from the Sinan Seabed), National Museum of Korea, Seoul, 1977, no. 3). Rarest of all are the Longquan mallet vases, such as the current vessel, which were made without handles, and only a small number of further examples are known. An example from the Qing Court collection is in the Palace Museum, Beijing (fig. 7)(illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 33 - Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (II), Hong Kong, 1996, p. 112, no. 100). A vase of this type was excavated in 1964 from a Southern Song tomb in the Sima Bridge area of Chengdu in Sichuan province (illustrated in Longchuan Celadon: The Sichuan Museum Collection, Macau, 1998, p. 85, no. 8), and another is illustrated in Longquan Celadon of China, Hong Kong, 1998, pl. 90.
Exquisite vases such as the current example were greatly prized by Japanese tea masters for display during the tea ceremony, and it seems that this vase may have been treasured in that context in Japan for several hundred years. It has a very prestigious history. It is possible that the history of this vase in Japan may go back as far as the Momayama period (c. AD 1574-1600), but in the following Edo period (AD 1603-1867) its history becomes clearer. An article on the Masuda Donno collection by Shirasaki Hideo, Donno Shushuhin Yuraiki published in Geijutsu Shincho, Tokyo, 1983 May, p. 59, notes that the current vase had been handed down within the Hachisuka family, and comments that such a vase is very rarely seen in any museum exhibitions or publications, and that its shape and glaze are exquisite.
The famous Hachisuka family, who rose to prominence in the second half of the 16th century and became one of the most successful and long-lasting feudal clans in the Edo period. The family are not only known as feudal lords or Daimyo of Awa (modern Tokushima prefecture, Shikoku), but are today in the minds of many Japanese associated with a legend involving the then head of the family Hachisuka Koroku Masakatsu (AD 1526-86) and Hiyoshimaru, who would later become famous as Toyotomi Hideyoshi (AD 1537-98). The story goes that Masakatsu and his followers were crossing the Yahagi bridge in Mikawa, in the eastern part of what is today Aichi prefecture, when he tripped over the head of Hiyoshimaru, who, being at that time without employment, was sleeping on the bridge. Masakatsu did not bother to stop, but, having been woken up by the incident, Hiyoshimaru got up in a fury and grasped hold of the tip of Masakatsu’s spear. Impressed by the younger man’s spirit, Makakatsu apologised for his lack of respect and even offered Hiyoshimaru a position among his samurai. The story appears in a biography of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Ehon Taikoki, compiled in the 18th century. While this is only a legend, nevertheless it is clear that the subsequent success of the Hachisuka family was in considerable part due to their association with Hiyoshimaru (Toyotomi Hideyoshi). Both Masakatsu and his son Iemasa (1558-1639) served Hideyoshi, playing significant roles in a number of battles. During the last stage of Hideyoshi’s unification of the Japanese archipelago, he granted the Awa region to Hashisuka Iemasa, in recognition of his contribution to the conquest of Shikoku Island in 1585. The family remained rulers of the Awa region, even after the transfer of power to the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603. By the end of the Edo period, the family had governed Awa for some 268 years.
From the point of view of the current vase, it is another side of Iemasa’s character that is significant. Like a number of other war lords who served Hideyoshi, Iemasa was a keen devotee of the tea ceremony, and several historical documents refer to his relationship with the most revered tea master Sen no Rikyu (AD 1522-91). A letter from Rikyu to a relative and wealthy merchant Watanabe Ritsuan asks that the latter deliver to Iemasa a tea kettle, which Rikyu has acquired at Iemasa’s request. Ritsuan, who had accompanied Iemasa when the Hachisuka family first entered Awa as the ruling clan, had also helped fund the construction of Tokushima castle, and the Watanabe family continued to support the region, even to the extent of issuing regional currency. Another letter, dated 1633, this time from Sen no Rikyu’s grandson, Sen no Sotan (AD 1578-1658), to his son, describes a tea jar, bearing the name Kankyo, which had belonged to Rikyu before passing into Iemasa’s possession. Indeed, Iemasa employed several of Sen no Rikyu’s disciples for their political acumen as well as their expertise in tea culture, and it might be expected that the Hachisuka family would have owned a number of important tea utensils over the years.
The current vase is later believed to have been in the collection of Komuro Shinobu (1839-98). Born in Tokushima in 1839, Shinobu Komuro came from a wealthy merchant family, but his interest in civil and military matters led him into politics. He developed a strong opposition to the Tokugawa Shogunate, and with those of like mind, he expressed his opposition by pulling down several wooden Ashikaga family images at the Toji-in in Kyoto, which led to his arrest in 1863. It is said that Hachisuka Mochiaki (1846 - 1918), the 14th head of Hachisuka family as Tokushima (Awa) ruler, hired Komuro as a samurai of Tokushima han when he was released from prison.
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868 Shinobu Komuro was released and appointed vice-governor. Following a tour of Europe and America in 1872, in 1874 he joined Count Itagaki Taisuke (1837-1919) and others in seeking to persuade the government to establish a national assembly and a written constitution. Shinobu Komuro later became a businessman involved in both Kyodo Unyu, later known as Nihon Yusen Kaisha In 1891 he was nominated to the House of Peers.
The current vase later entered the collection of the Tominaga family and was in the possession of Tominaga Fuyuki, who at one time served as a director of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Fuyuki Tominaga was the brother-in-law of the famous art collector and connoisseur, Baron Masuda Takashi (1848-1938), who either bought the vase directly from the Tominaga family, or purchased it at auction. Masuda Takashi, whose wife Ei was from the Tominaga family, was the son of an official who served as Hakodate bugyo or commissioner on Sado Island (modern Niigata prefecture) dealing with foreigners and foreign trade. At the age of fourteen Masuda Takashi was already able to act as an interpreter with American consular officials, and in the 1860s studied English at the Hepburn School, which would become Meiji Gakuin University. At the time of the 1868 Meiji Restoration, Masuda was a Lieutenant Colonel in the shogunate’s cavalry, but following the Meiji Restoration he was employed in the Ministry of Finance, thanks to his connections with Marquis Inoue Kaoru (1836-1915), who became Vice Minister of Finance in 1871. He served for a short time as Master of the Mint, but in 1874, again with Marquis Inoue’s support, became vice president of the Senshu Kaisha Trading Company. In 1876 Mitsui & Co. was established and Masuda was installed as president, at the age of 27. Mitsui & Co. was essentially a venture capital company, but in the same year it was transformed through merger into a general trading company Mitsui Bussan Kaisai, which would become one of the largest trading companies in Japan and by 1880 would have overseas branches not only in other parts of Asia, but in Europe and America. Masuda also used his own private funds to establish the Chugai Shogyo Shimpo newspaper (the precursor to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun) a leading economic newspaper. Masuda formally retired in 1914, and in 1918 he was elevated to the rank of baron (danshaku) in the kazoku peerage system. After retirement he devoted much of his energies to art collection and the study and practice of Japanese tea ceremony. He is believed to have begun collecting art in 1878 and by the time of his death in 1938 he had amassed some four thousand items (see Christine Guth, Art, Tea and Industry: Masuda Takashi and the Mitsui Circle, Princeton, 1993). Masuda became famous as a master of the tea ceremony, taking the name Masuda Donno and holding tea ceremonies at his residences in Odawara and Kamakura. He held exhibitions of art from his own collection and those of other collectors in his circle. Masuda Takashi became known for his refined tastes and is regarded by many as the greatest influence on tea in Japan since Sen no Rikyu. He is believed to have regarded this vase as one of his greatest treasures
The current vase has thus been a revered object in both China and Japan for some eight hundred years. It is a rare and perfect reflection of the refined aesthetics of the Southern Song court, which later found eager appreciation among the great tea and art connoisseurs in Japan.