Mizusashi named “Matsugane”

Water Jar

Ko-Bizen, 16th century

Ceramic, 16 by 15 by 14.5 cm

This powerful mizusashi is characterized by the strong asymmetrical decoration; it exudes a raw energy that is inescapable, naturally drawing viewers in closer to ponder the dynamics of its creation. The body is naturally ash-glazed (shizen-yu) on one side, while the rest is left in plain clay with some light effects of koge (burn area) and hidasuki (reddish marks obtained burning straw on the clay). The glazed side, the one to be shown to guests during the tea ceremony, is decorated with a unique pattern as a result of a natural glazing caused by the ashes in the kiln: as more wood is burned, ash builds up to the face of the pot and fuses with the clay body, creating a glaze with stunning effects. The intense and nervous pattern has inspired the name Matsugane (Pine root), inscribed in red lacquer on the mizusashi by Gengensai (1810-77), 11th master and prominent figure in the Urasenke school, and Japanese tea ceremony history altogether. Gengensai also inscribed and signed the mizusashi’s box together with his pupil Somi Fukatsu, while another box is signed by Hounsai (born 1923), 15th master of the school. The interior is richly decorated in hidasuki.

The mizusashi is the largest utensil of Japanese tea ceremony; it contains the fresh water used to prepare the tea and to wash the tea-bowl and the bamboo tools. During the Muromachi period (1336-1573) Chinese vessels were used for this task but at the beginning of the Momoyama period (1573-1615), Bizen and Shigaraki wares were already more popular. The production of Bizen pottery (Bizen-yaki) started by the late Kamakura period (13th-14th century), taking its name after the place where it was made, Inbe, in Bizen province (now Okayama prefecture). Bizen-yaki ceramics are recognizable by their almost metallic hardness and their red-brownish color. The natural glazed effect and the eventual markings on the surface are consequences of the action of ashes during the firing process in the kilns; the result is an impressive variety of wares, each with different shape and surface effects. 

This Ko-Bizen mizusashi reflects the taste of wabi-sabi Japanese aesthetics. Its beauty is discreet and derives from its natural imperfection. Shin’ichi Hisamatsu (1889-1980), Zen master and former professor of Religious studies at the Kyoto University, classified Japanese aesthetics into seven concepts, most of which can be applied to this mizusashi: natural and spontaneous asymmetry (fukinsei); absence of ostentations, as everything is left to the intuition of the viewer (kanso); naturalness, spontaneity and fluidity, seen as ability to empty the mind and let the creative process flow spontaneously (shizen); depth and inscrutable aspect of things, which remain unintelligible to the human mind (yugen).


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