China, Tianqi period (1621 – 1627)
Diameter: 9 ½ inches (24.2 cm)
Produced from a coarse clay and deliberately misshapen in the making by the potter, this dish, of such a different style to anything produced in China previously and indeed since, owes its existence to the Japanese demand for porcelain made for use in the tea ceremony during the early 17th century.
Its function would have been to present food during the kaiseki, a small meal of delicacies served during the tea ceremony prior to the serving of a thick tea called koicha.
It is decorated in a spirited manner with four horses set on a speckled blue ground. Most likely the horses were covered in a ‘wax resist’ or paper to protect them from the cobalt blue speckles that were blown onto the surface through a tube with a gauze-covered end. This technique is known in Japan as fukizumi, ‘blown ink’.
It is quite possible that these are four of the eight horses that pulled the chariot of King Mu, an emperor of the tenth century BCE. Each horse had supernatural powers. For instance, ‘Beyond Earth’ had hooves that did not touch the ground; perhaps he is the one flying above the other three.
Distortions, imperfections, coarse clay and rim fritting known affectionately to the Japanese as mushikui, ‘insect bites’, all appealed to the Japanese aesthetic. This dish is from a group of wares referred to
in Japanese as kosometsuke, ‘old blue and white’. The rarest and most treasured forms of this genre of tea-ceremony items seem
to be the intentionally misshapen pieces that perhaps reflect the randomness of nature’s shapes.