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A very fine & rare relief-moulded Kakiemon nigoshide porcelain serving dish brilliantly enamelled with The Three Friends of Winter (Pine, Prunus & Bamboo)


Arita, Kakiemon kiln, Hizen province, Japan,

Edo period, Genroku Era (1688-1703)/Hōei Era (1704-1711)

circa 1690-1710



Oblong serving tray, or long dish, with fluted corners, the elegantly press-moulded nigoshide porcelain body with shallow relief-moulded decoration featuring a central large pine tree issuing from a Scholar’s Rock, its gnarled trunk extending upwards into a swirling bank of ruyi clouds, the cavetto also relief-moulded with blossoming prunus and bamboo amongst rockwork; the relief-moulding decorated in the Kakiemon style with polychrome enamels of iron-red, blue, turquoise, yellow and black. The reverse undecorated.


Length 20.2 cm (8.3 inches)



This elegantly moulded and lobed oblong shaped long dish, or serving tray, was produced using fine nigoshide (milky white) porcelain with a pearly white luminescent glaze. The nigoshide body is the whitest of all Japanese porcelain and was used for only the finest enamelled wares of this period. This 'milk white' body, composed of kaolin and petunste, achieved purity through a time-consuming process in which the Arita potters repeatedly levigated and washed the clay. Only open shapes (dishes, bowls) were made using the nigoshide body, and underglaze blue decoration was never used on this porcelain; only the finest overglaze enamelling sometimes highlighted by hints of gilding.


Some very refined late 17th/early 18th century pieces using the nigoshide body were first thrown on the potter’s wheel and then press-moulded using either ceramic or wooden press moulds, such as in the present example. Numerous sherds of nigoshide porcelain with relief-moulded patterns were excavated from the Kakiemon kiln site. A 1999 publication by the Kyushu Ceramic Museum refers to several press-moulds preserved at the Kakiemon kiln, the earliest of these moulds being dated 1685.


Interestingly, Impey notes in Japanese Export Porcelain: Catalogue of the Collection of the Ashmoleon Museum (2002) that "sometimes the enamel decoration ignores a moulded pattern underneath" (Impey, p.145). On this dish the enameller traces over the delicately raised relief-moulded pattern, using it as a guide which he followed for the most part, however he did not decorate all raised sections in exacting detail, with the occasional moulded branch or floret being ignored by the enameller completely.


The central decoration features a pine tree issuing from behind a scholar’s rock, the top branches of the tree being partly obscured by swirling ruyi clouds and stylised smaller iron red clouds. The cavetto above is enamelled with flowering prunus among rocks and the cavetto underneath decorated with flowering bamboo. The shorter sides are decorated with peony and scrolls.


The Pine, Prunus and Bamboo are known collectively as 'The Three Friends of Winter' and are representative of resilience and the ability to survive adversity; these plants do not wither in the coldest days of the winter season.


This exceptionally fine and rare dish in near-perfect original condition serves as a testiment to the refinement and beauty achieved by the Kakiemon during the late 17th/early 18th century, when the porcelain artististry of Arita reached its zenith.

A fine Kakiemon nigoshide dish enamelled with Three Friends of Winter c1690-1710



    416 666 6295


    Associated examples:

    An associated long rectangular serving dish with equally brilliant and translucent enamels exists in the Shibata Collection at the Kyushu Ceramic Museum, illustrated in Complete Catalogue of Shibata Collection (2019), no.2089, dated 1680-1700.

    The Shibata example no.2089 features similarly executed enamelling to the cavettos, the central well decorated with a dragon amongst swirling clouds snarling at a tiger. Stylistically similar handling of enamelled decoration and notably brilliant and similar colouration to the enamels throughout, when compared to the present serving dish.


    Comparable examples:

    Other examples possibly from a set of five dishes which likely came from Japan to England in the early 20th century, were distributed amongst a group of friends and colleagues united by a similar passion for collecting early Japanese ceramics. Including the present example, a complete and nearly identical set of five can be traced to Soame Jenyns, Kington Baker and Mrs. Walter Sedgwick – all contemporaries, collectors, friends and members of the Oriental Ceramic Society from the early to mid 20th century in London.


    Comparable dish 1: An almost identical example to the present dish was exhibited at The Oriental Ceramics Society’s ‘Loan Exhibition of Japanese Porcelain’ in 1956 by Mrs. Walter Sedgwick. The 1956 exhibition catalogue describes the dish as "122: Oblong dish with fluted corners, decorated in enamels and gold with pine trees, rocks and clouds in the centre, with borders of bamboos and plum [prunus] blossom. Length 8.3 in. Mrs. Walter Sedgwick”. A copy of this catalogue with illustrations accompanies the present dish.


    Comparable dish 2: Another almost identical example formerly in the Collection of Soame Jenyns, Deputy Keeper of Asian Antiquities at the British Museum. Later sold by Robert McPherson (Friesland, Netherlands).


    Comparable dishes 3 & 4: Another two almost identical dishes of this design in the Collection of the British Museum (Collection numbers 1940,0601.2-3) were donated as part of the Kington Baker Bequest (1940). In The British Museum Quarterly, volume 14, R.S. Jenyns states that "the bequest from the small but choice collection of the late Mr. Kington Baker has yielded several interesting pieces of Japanese porcelain to the Museum collections. In particular six pieces of porcelain decorated in polychrome enamels in the style of the potter Kakiemon".

    R. S. Jenyns notes that "the elegant quatrefoil tray (PL XXI) shows a thick greasy white glaze....this is almost transparent and full of bubbles. The enamels if anything are even more brilliant, and they have been traced over a raised design of a fir-tree, prunus, and bamboo, amid rocks and clouds. It is difficult to date this piece with any security, but I should place it...possibly about 1700."


    Comparable dish 5: the present example makes the final dish in a complete Japanese set of five. 

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