The Potter's Mark: Identity and Tea Ceramics

August 18, 2007 – February 24, 2008

Freer Gallery of Art
Jefferson Drive and 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC

Gallery 6A Floor Plan

Japanese ceramics were among the first in Asia to display impressed or incised marks relating to their makers. This exhibition shows 12 examples of these marks, which began as seals of approval, and how they changed in the 16th to 17th centuries. In the late 16th century, marks on vessels made for use in the Japanese tea ceremony indicated keen interest in the maker's identity and skill. By the mid-17th century, potters such as the Kyoto master Ninsei used elegant oval seals to identify their products. At the end of the 17th century, the Kyoto potter Ogata Kenzan introduced a new style by inscribing his own studio name in large brush strokes, sometimes even as part of the vessel's decoration. However, marks used at the Seto kilns, which were sponsored by a prominent warrior house, emphasized the prestigious ware rather than the individual makers. Some Seto tea-leaf storage jars bore the name of a special local clay Sobokai, incised on the base while other tea jars bore stamped marks resembling the ciphers used as official signatures by warriors.