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HOME : Asian Art : Art of Japan : Japanese hot-water kettle (yuto)
Japanese hot-water kettle (yuto) - CB.004
Origin: Japan
Circa: 19 th Century AD
Dimensions: 17.3" (43.9cm) high x 17" (43.2cm) wide
Style: Bunsei period (1818-1830)
Medium: Bronze, cloisonné
Condition: Fine

Location: Great Britain
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Cast bronze bulbous zoomorphic hot water kettle, with pivoting carrying handle, sporting an incised and cloisonné decoration. Yuto is a spouted vessel traditionally used during banquets for serving broth, and also occasionally sake, hot or cold water. In this case the pouring spout is shaped as the neck and head of a Phoenix, with two triangular short but richly ornamented wings springing on either side of the kettle. The body of the kettle is decorated by the continuous pattern of an incised curvilinear motif, which could possibly be interpreted as the plumes on the legendary bird’s body; this pattern is interrupted by three registers decorated in vibrant cloisonné enameling: the lowest register is decorated by a vegetal motif composed by the sinuous lines of a vine with flowers and leafs against a dark blue and white ground. The middle register, which is also the widest, is decorated by a garland of large open flowers whereas the upper one alternates a blue and red geometric motif against a yellow background that incorporates both angular and cursive elements, complimented by green and turquoise daisies. The lid is also decorated by a band of in a cloisonné geometric pattern which combines a series of triangles and circles and is equally repeated on the outer part of the handle. Finial in the form of a rampant lion dragon, with raised forepaws. Solid-cast handle of quadrangular section, cloisonné decorated on three sides. On one of the attachment points, round demonic head with small pointed ears, bulbous nose, central short horn, snarling open mouth with the upper canine teeth in view and a triangular short beard in the middle of the chin. On the opposite point of attachment corresponds a long curling tail, thus transforming the handle into the imaginary elongated body of this demonic creature. The globular kettle is supported on three short legs, each of them decorated by an incised Greek meander motif. The bottom of the vessel is engraved with the seal of the Bunsei Period (1818-1830). Enamelling is a meticulous and extremely time- consuming craft. Enamels are a form of glass coloured with metallic oxides and applied as a paste, usually to a metallic body, generally of copper, although other metals may be also used. When the object is fired in a kiln to an appropriate temperature, the enamels melt and fuse to the body. The object is then cooled and its surface is polished to a high-gloss finish. There are various enamelling techniques. The simplest is champlevé, where a pattern or design is carved out of a metallic body, with the enamel paste then applied into the resulting hollow, the piece being in consequence fired and finally polished. In cloisonné enamelling, fine wires are used to delineate the areas destined for decoration (cloisons in French, hence cloisonné) into which the enamel paste is then applied before the object is fired and finally polished. These fine wires serve a dual function: they can be an integral part of the decoration while at the same time preventing the molten enamels from flowing into adjoining areas during firing. Cloisonné enamels in Japan had traditionally been used only as small areas of decoration mostly on sword fittings. Around 1833 a former samurai, Kaji Tsunekichi of Nagoya in the Owari Province (modern Aichi Prefecture), like many other samurai of that time, was forced to find ways to supplement his meagre official income. It is believed that Kaji obtained a piece of Chinese cloisonné enamel and took it apart, examined how it was made and eventually produced himself a small cloisonné enamel dish. By the late 1850s he had taken on pupils and was appointed official maker to the Daimyo (local feudal lord) of the Owari province. There followed a huge increase in the production of cloisonné enamel ware mostly as a natural consequence to the ‘reopening’ to the rest of the world of Japan in the 1850’s and the ensuing western obsession for all forms of Japanese art. Nagoya and the surrounding area became renowned for innovations in the production of highly decorated cloisonné objects. Kyoto and Tokyo soon followed as major centres of production and cloisonné enamels became very desirable objects in the West. From these tentative beginnings in the 1830s Nagoya, the art of cloisonné enamelling expanded as to become one of Japan’s most successful forms of manufacture and export by the end of the 19th century In ancient Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long- lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. According to some sources, the legendary bird dies in a show of flames and combustion. Phoenix is considered as the magnificent king of the winged kingdom, synonymous with good fortune, opportunity, and luck. It also conveys strength and resilience in the symbolic rising from its own ashes and the subsequent soaring to greater heights. On its own, the Phoenix is a Yang symbol and is associated with the energy of fire and the four winds. When though combined with the Dragon, the phoenix becomes then a Yin symbol. The Bunsei period witnessed an urban cultural scene unmatched for a good number of centuries. The austere reforms and sumptuary laws which had been passed and approved in the late 18th century were soon followed by a period of extravagant luxury led by the 11th Tokugawa shogun Ienari and his administration, known for its financial laxity and corruption. The lavish habits of the ruling class quickly spread to the populace and further invigorated an urban culture dominated by the flamboyant, pleasure-seeking merchant class. - (CB.004)


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