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Telling the story of 400 years of British royal contact with Japan

Arita, Hizen province [Japan]

Pair of hexagonal jars and covers 1670-90

Porcelain painted in ‘Kakiemon-style’ with overglaze enamel colours and overglaze gold | H (overall) 31.5 cm, 31.5 cm, (jar only) 26.9 cm, 26.9 cm (whole object) | RCIN 1094

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A pair of hexagonal Kakiemon-style porcelain jars and covers. Each with six gently curved sides tapering to the foot, rounded shoulder and straight hexagonal neck, the flat base unglazed; the low, domed cover with projecting rim, unglazed infitting flange, and flat knob finial.

Vessels in this form and style have become known as ‘Hampton Court vases’ due to their close association with the palace where Mary II amassed a large and important collection of Japanese porcelain. Each is decorated with women and birds in Kakiemon-style overglaze enamels of blue, green, yellow and red. The two vases are unusual in being a ‘matched’ pair – with designs that are symmetrical when placed side-by-side. Displaying porcelain in pairs in this way was a European conceit; ornamental, identical pairs were rare in Japan. The jars would have been made specifically for export, and it is possible that they were specially commissioned through the Arita factories.13 Each hexagonal body was not made on a potter’s wheel but hand-fashioned in slabs and then assembled, an intricate and time-consuming process. Producing such luxury items was so labour-intensive that after the eighteenth century they were no longer made.

Text adapted from Japan: Courts and Culture (2020)

Painted in rich blue, green, yellow, red, brown and black, with gilt details, RCIN 1094.2 repeating the design of RCIN 1094.1, but in reverse. Three main designs each fill a panel spreading across two faces, framed on either side by a border of leaves. One shows two blue cranes, one swooping down and the other standing under an arching pine tree beside a blue rock and a flowering camellia. In a second panel, a woman in a blue coat admires a flowering prunus, holding a fan and a spray over her shoulder. In the third, a yellow-breasted bird perches on a stem of bamboo and another with blue wings rises to meet it. Round the shoulder, a leafy scroll in green and blue is interrupted at alternate corners by three fan-tailed birds in red and yellow; and round the neck is a key-fret border in red. The cover design repeats that of the shoulder.

Text adapted from Chinese and Japanese Works of Art in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen: Volume I.
  • Place of Production
    Arita [Saga, Japan]