Ōtagaki Rengetsu (1791-1875) 大田垣蓮月

Fresh Water Jar with Incised Poem

Inv. Nr. #19.033
Date Late Edo/Early Meiji period
Material Glazed stoneware, incised
Dimensions H 21,2 x Diam. 16,5 cm

Comes with old, fitted wooden box.

Price on request

Ōtagaki Rengetsu is perhaps the most famous poet of the 19th century and is also known for her excellent skills in calligraphy and pottery. She was born the illegitimate daughter of a samurai from the Tōdō family. Soon after her birth, she was adopted by Ōtagaki Mitsuhasa, who worked at Chion'in, an important temple of the Jōdo (Pure Land) school in Kyōto. In 1798, after losing her mother and brother, she was sent to serve as a lady-in-waiting at Kameoka Castle in Tanba, where she was taught classical poetry, calligraphy, and martial arts.

At the age of 33, she had already experienced some fateful years in her life, losing two husbands and all five of her children. She then decided to shave her hair and take vows, taking the name Rengetsu (Lotus Moon). She lived with her stepfather near Chion'in Temple. After his death in 1832, Rengetsu began making her extraordinary pottery, which she usually inscribed with her own waka (31-syllable classical poetry) and sold to support herself. With her unique combination of pottery, calligraphy, and poetry, Rengetsu gained recognition far beyond the borders of Kyōto during her lifetime.

The work presented here is a lidded freshwater jar for the Japanese tea ceremony. Despite her tragic life, the work exemplifies the subtle beauty and humor that Rengetsu was able to maintain for herself. In the incised poem - also known as the Eggplant Poem - she links the image of a ripe eggplant to the Buddhist concept of a fulfilled and happy life:


"To rise in the world and achieve what one desires, therefore, eggplants are indeed a happy example" (Yo no naka ni/ mi no nari idete/ omou koto/ nasu ha medetaki/ tameshi narikeri).


The jar is accompanied by an old wooden box. This work is almost identical to a water jar in the Unger Family Collection, Switzerland, published in the exhibition catalogue Black Robe, White Mist: Art of the Japanese Buddhist Nun Rengetsu, National Gallery of Australia (2007), p. 94.