Shino Serving Bowl

Shino Serving Bowl

Item number: T-1569
Size: H 2.2" x W 6" x L 6" (5.7 x 15.3 x 15.3 cm)
Era: Momoyama-early Edo Period

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This small Shino bowl was made for the kaiseki section of the tea ceremony, in which guests were served from small dishes filled with various refined dishes. This vessel was created through a number of separate steps. It was initially thrown on the wheel and then sculpted by hand. Three loop feet were then added to the bowl and it bears traces of spur marks on both the top and the bottom of the bowl, indicating that it was fired as a stack of smaller bowls and dishes. The stoneware vessel was then covered with a thick feldsparic glaze, which fired milky-white over a simple iron decoration that had been applied with a brush. The design on the upper surface of the bowl is separated into two zones. The inner, round area is decorated with a simple motif of three flying plovers (chidori) on a blank ground. In Japanese visual culture, plovers are almost always paired with waves, and the lack of waves on this design is at first puzzling until one notices the fine under-glaze kugibori »carved nail« indentation in the center of this area: this indentation forms a single curving wave in the middle of the three birds. The viewer is rewarded for looking closely and the puzzle is now solved. The second zone of decoration is on the rim. The decoration here is formed of quickly-drawn, stylized vines, curling out from two diagonally opposed corners. Two other sides are marked with series of parallel lines along the edges of the vessel. The fine perforated design of round clusters are placed close to the vines and may well represent clusters of fruit, such as the grape.3 While the design appears simple and spontaneous, it is in fact highly sophisticated. Such a design could easily be imagined to have been ordered by a tea master or artist with a keen sense of play and visual design. Similar Shino bowls and dishes were often made in sets of five and ten and used in the tea ceremony, during the kaiseki meal.5 This particular type of bowl would have been appreciated as a kaiseki vessel for a number of reasons. First, as stated above, for its visually appealing, sophisticated design. Second, for ease of use: the central area could easily hold a small amount of food without spilling, the three feet giving the vessel stability. In addition, the uneven surface of the vessel, with its heavy glaze, would have provided a pleasantly tactile surface to hold during the meal. Finally, the bowl would have created an interesting temporal program: when food was served, the food would have been in the center of the bowl, framed by the outer zone with the design of vines and fruit. Upon eating the food, the central design of the plovers become gradually visible, and, when the food was entirely gone, the indented central wave would suddenly become visible, perhaps accented by the food's liquid runoff settling in the wave-shaped indentation. The bowl carries yet another association as both the plover / wave design and that of the vines/grapes carry an autumnal association. This Shino bowl would have been an ideal vessel to serve that important guest at the autumn tea setting.

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