Bowl, Takeo Karatsu ware

  • Stoneware with white slip, copper and iron pigments under clear glaze
  • 11 x 34.8 x 34.8 cm
  • Karatsu ware, Takeo Karatsu type
  • 1660-1700, Edo period
  • Origin: Takeo Karatsu kilns, Takeo, Saga prefecture, Japan
  • Provenance: Borneo, Indonesia
  • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd L. Whittington
  • F1987.14


Large deep bowl.
Clay: stoneware, brown to brick red on exposed surfaces, with some small white stones; appearing gray brown under clear glaze.
Glaze: on front, white slip, combed into undulating patterns, under clear glaze. glaze covers front of dish incompletely and covers only edge of back, with irregular runs.
Decoration: on front, over combed slip pattern in cavetto, one long trail of copper green and, across from it, one long trail of iron-yellow, both faint. In bottom, three large oval sandy spur marks; judging from spacing of these marks, seven or eight spurs altogether were probably used, the others not adhering to the unglazed slip areas.

Curatorial Remarks

1. (LACort, 1987) This plate is one of three similar ones acquired by Mr. Whittington while he was living in Indonesia in 1962. Mr. Whittington was Counselor for Political Affairs at the American Embassy in Jakarta. The plates were acquired for him by a local man whom he funded regularly to go on buying trips. Mr. Whittington believes that these three plates were probably acquired somewhere in upper Borneo, above Kalimantan. The relatively fresh condition of the plates suggests that they were probably treated as heirlooms, passed down or traded as part of family wealth rather than being used for serving and eating. (Some three hundred other pieces of Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, and Indonesian ceramics were given by Mr. Whittington to the Stanford University Art Museum.)

The three plates belonging to Mr. Whittington were discussed by Dean Frasché in his presentation, "Pottery from the Takeo City Area, Kyushu, Discovered in Southeast Asia," at the International Symposium on Japanese Ceramics held at the Seattle Art Museum in 1972 (Seattle Art Museum 1973, 166–171). Other plates of the same type have been found in the Chao Phraya River at the former Thai capital of Ayutthaya, which was destroyed by a Burmese invasion in 1767 (discussed by Frasché; example in style similar to this plate illustrated in Mitsuoka et al. 1980, pl. 142; same piece illustrated in Becker 1986, pl. 149). Still other plates of the same sort are said to have been excavated from the site of the subway in Mexico City.

The Ayutthaya date serves to give a terminus ad quem date to this style of plate as a whole. Plates of similar style or related styles have been excavated at various sites in Japan, including the grave in Saga Prefecture of a man who died in 1697 (Kyushu Tōji Bunkakan 1984, pl. 842), other sites in Saga (ibid., pl. 940), a site in Fukuoka Prefecture (ibid., pl. 744), within the moat surrounding the free-trade city of Sakai (ibid., pls. 338, 340), Kyoto (ibid., pl. 551), Hokkaido (ibid., pl. 12), and Arita Prefecture (ibid., pl. 52).

The production sites for large plates of this type seem to have been concentrated within the Takeo area of northwestern Kyushu at the Kotoge, Kotaji, and Niwagi kilns. The Freer Study Collection includes related sherds from the Kotoge site (Box 27) and the Niwagi site (Box 2). The permanent collection includes a number of related objects made in the same area at approximately the same time: F1899.40 and F1901.58, two mizusashi with combed slip under copper-tinted green glaze; F99.60, a jar with copper-green glaze; and F1898.502–504, three small cups with combed-slip decor under clear glaze.

Seattle Art Museum. 1973. International Symposium on Japanese Ceramics. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum.

Mitsuoka Tadanari, Narasaki Shoichi, and Hayashiya Seizo. 1980. Kyushu I. Vol. 11, Nihon yakimono shūsei. Tokyo: Heibonsha.

Becker, Joanna. 1986. Karatsu ware : a tradition of diversity. Tokyo and New York: Kondansha International.

Kyushu Tōji Bunkakan (Kyushu Ceramic Museum). 1984. Kokunai shutsudo no Hizen tōji (Hizen ceramics excavated within Japan) vol. Arita: Kyushu Tōji Bunkakan.

2. (LACort, 13 June 1995) Added "Ware: Karatsu, Takeo Karatsu type."

3. (LACort, Arita, 11 June 1996) According to Ohashi Koji, bowls of this type made in the 17th century have straight-cut footrims and usually use both sand and clay balls (taidome) for stacking; those made in the eighteenth century have beveled lower outside edges on the footrim and use only sand for stacking.

4. (Louise Cort, 5 June 2000) Mr. and Mrs. Whittington donated a group of Majapahit terracotta figures to the Cantor Art Center, Stanford University, and a large Vietnamese blue-and-white plate with a central flower motif to the Seattle Art Museum (acc. no. 74.5).

5. (Louise Cort, 30 October 2003) The dribbles of copper green and iron brown glaze on this type of bowl correspond aesthetically and probably chronologically with the Kasahara Oribe dishes made in the Mino area. The large, deep bowl shapes are also the same: what was their purpose? The size and shape remind me of celadon-glazed deep bowls from the Si Satchanalai kilns.

6. (Louise Cort, 6 August 2007) Bowls of this type were made at the Kashinokiyama kiln, within the Kotaji district of Takeo City, a kiln that specialized in large bowls with inlaid or two-color splashed decoration. See Higashinakagawa 2006–2007, esp. figs. 8–10. By comparing the dates of related inlaid bowls excavated from datable habitation sites, Higashinakagawa proposes the operation of the kiln ranged from ca. 1660 to ca. 1730.

Higashinakagawa Tadami. 2006–2007. "Kashinokiyama yōseki to sono seihin ni tsuite (The Site of the Kashinokiyama Kiln and its Products—in Kotaji, Takeo City, Saga Prefecture)." Tōyō tōji (Oriental Ceramics) 36: 61–82 (Japanese), x (English summary).

7. (Louise Cort, 19 May 2009) Fragments of bowls of this type were recovered from excavations at Banten Lama, capital of the Islamic sultanate of Banten in western Java (Ambary and Takashi, eds. 1994, 124[fig. 132]).

Ambary, Hasan Maurif, and Takashi Sakai, eds. 1994. Hizen tōji no minato Banten: Indoneshia no Isuramu kōshi iseki (The Hizen ceramic trade port of Banten: The ruins of an Islamic port in Indonesia). Tokyo: Hodaka Shoten.

8. (Louise Cort, 24 July 2009) The Westfries Museum in Hoorn, Netherlands, displays earthenware dishes made in Enkhuizen, a Zuider Zee port that housed one chamber of the Dutch East India Company after 1602. The kiln site was excavated in 1979. The large earthenware dishes bear trailed white slip decoration with touches of copper green, and sgraffito versions also exist. Could these have been the inspiration for the Takeo Karatsu dishes so conspicuously exported to Southeast Asia, to ports where the VOC also was active?

9. (Louise Cort, 10 August 2009) According to Ohashi Koji, Kyushu Ceramic Museum, this dish is Karatsu ware of the Takeo type. The style of trimming of the base, with a slight bevel on the outside and a wide lower surface, indicates that it dates to the last third of the 17th century, 1660s–1690s. The beveling on later dish rims is wider. The spur marks on the inside of the dish are sand (suname); those on the base are clay (taidome).

This type of ware is also termed nisai Karatsu (two-color Karatsu), after the use of copper and iron pigments.

Changed Date from Late 17th-early 18th century to 1660–1700.

10. (Louise Cort, 13 May 2011) Floyd and Carol Whittington donated another group of their ceramics—some 200 pieces from China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Korea—to Western Washington State University in 1987. The Whittington Collection of Asian Ceramics can be accessed at

11. (Louise Cort, 23 February 2012) Dr. Hiroko Nishida told me that she visited the island of Borneo around 1971, looking for Hizen porcelain, but in Kota Kinabalu she was surprised to find it together with large quantities of stoneware of this type. At the time such Karatsu ware was termed "folk art" (mingei) and was dated 18th-19th century. Given the date for the porcelain pieces with which it was mixed, she felt the date for this stoneware must be 17th century.

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