Nabeshima Ware, 1770-1800

Dish with Court Carriage beneath a Cherry Tree

Inv. Nr. #18.013
Date Edo Period, 1770-1800
Material Porcelain with cobalt blue underglaze painting
Dimensions Diam. 20,3 cm

Price on request

Hizen ware, Nabeshima type porcelain plate with a court carriage under a cherry tree. Loved by young and old around the world, the cherry blossom season in Japan is celebrated with a special custom called hanami. Hanami literally translates as "looking at flowers" and describes the tradition of walking or sitting under the pink clouds of blossoms while enjoying music, poetry, drinks and food.


The custom of enjoying cherry blossoms may have its roots in the very early rite of predicting the harvest of rice (that was planted at the same time) by observing the appearance and blossoming of the cherry tree. In the past, farmers would place food and sake under the blossoming trees to ensure a good harvest. In the Heian period, the aristocratic elite of the court supplemented this ancient practice with social gatherings and entertainment. Legend has it that Saga Tennō (786-842) initiated the first cherry blossom viewing by replacing a plum tree with a cherry tree in the Imperial Garden. However, the term "hanami" itself does not appear until the Genji Monogatari, written by Murasaki Shikibu in the early 11th century. Such was the impact of flower viewing in Heian court society that the Japanese word for flower, "hana," which had previously been used in poetry to refer to plum blossoms, as it was still used in the Man'yōshū (second half of the 8th century), was gradually used to refer to cherry blossoms alone, thus becoming the flower par excellence.


In this beautiful Nabeshima dish, no people are shown, but the luxurious carriage under the flowering tree implies a Heian court nobleman or women coming from the palace to enjoy the most precious time of the year, contemplating the beauty of life.


Nabeshima ware is a high-quality porcelain from Hizen. It was produced by the Nabeshima clan in Okawachi near Arita between the 17th and the late 19th century, either for their own use or as valuable gifts. The dish is of exceptional quality with fine brush details in the cobalt blue underglaze painting. There is an old Japanese gold lacquer repair to a glaze chip at the rim, otherwise in perfect condition.


This plate is part of a set of which one is known to be in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (#93.3.16) in New York. It can be dated to 1770-1800 and was originally owned by Captain Frank Brinkley, Tokyo. The set was sold to Charles Stewart Smith in New York who donated one piece to the MET in 1893.