Some of the finest tea wares of the Momoyama period, including Black Seto, were produced in the Mino kilns in Gifu Prefecture. Sen no Rikyū (1522–1591), the influential arbiter of the aesthetics of tea, preferred “imperfect,” spontaneously potted domestic ceramics and used them as the basis of the simple and austere wabi style.
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Title:Black Seto (Seto-guro) Tea Bowl, named Iron Mallet (Tettsui)
Period:Momoyama period (1573–1615)
Date:late 16th century
Medium:Stoneware with black glaze (Mino ware, Black Seto type)
Dimensions:H. 3 11/16 in. (9.3 cm); Diam. of rim: 4 3/4 in. (12 cm)
Credit Line:Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015
The Mino kilns are situated in Gifu Prefecture, some twenty-four kilometers (15 miles) north of Seto, the great center of pottery manufacture in Japan during the medieval period (1185–1573). The kilns produced some of the finest wares of the Momoyama period, including Shino (cat. nos. 100, 101), Oribe (cat. no. 104), Ki Seto (Yellow Seto), and Seto Guro (Black Seto). After the eighteenth century, however, they were no longer in use and the wares that had been produced there in the Momoyama period were misattributed to the nearby Seto kilns. Errors about the origin of Mino ceramics—particularly wares like Ki Seto and Seto Guro—were perpetuated until 1930, when old kiln sites were discovered at Mino by the renowned potter Arakawa Toyozo (1894–1985). Recent excavations at the site have made it possible to reconstruct the chronology of kiln activity.
Mino has a long, continuous history as an important center of ceramics production. Beginning in the late seventh century, the kilns there turned out fine Sueki pieces (cat. no. 4); during the Heian and Kamakura periods, they produced glazed wares for use in temples and aristocratic homes. Their activities were probably conducted under the partial control of persons designated by the emperor, and their wares had the unique distinction of bearing the stamped "Mino" seal. Mino kilns are also sometimes credited with having inaugurated production of a superior type of fine, glazed white Sueki. During the Kamakura, Nanbokuchō, and early Muromachi periods, Mino production was overshadowed by that of the more successful Seto kilns. In the mid-fifteenth century, however, when potters from Seto, across the mountains, brought the technique of controlled glazing to the Mino area the local potters achieved a brilliant reversal in their fortunes. By the end of the century, to keep pace with the great quantities of imports from China, large, more efficient kilns had been constructed at both Mino and Seto.
During the Momoyama period, changes in the leadership of tea circles also contributed to the spectacular revival of the Mino kilns. A leading tea master of the Muromachi period, Murata Shukō (Jukō, 1423–1502), had preferred Chinese imports or Japanese copies of them for chanoyu. But Takeno Jōō ( d. 1555/58) displayed a taste for native ceramics, and his disciple Sen Rikyū (1522–1591), the great Momoyama tea master and arbiter of the aesthetics of tea, firmly rejected the symmetrical perfection of Chinese ceramics in favor of more spontaneously potted and casual-looking, if imperfect, indigenous wares. New shapes and new types of glazes made their appearance in the late sixteenth century, as potters were guided by the spirit of wabicha, the simple and austere style established by Rikyū. As a result, the fortunes of the two neighboring and rival kilns were reversed. Blessed with high-quality clay and an abundant source of firewood, Mino superseded Seto.
The main products of the Mino kilns were tea-related vessels: tea bowls, mizusashi (water jars), and kaiseki wares—plates and containers used to serve kaiseki, the small meal that precedes chanoyu. These dinner wares, which constitute the majority of Shino and Oribe ceramics, signified a new era in the industry, as well as in the eating habits of the Japanese people. Before the Momoyama period, the Japanese used dinner wares of wood, lacquered wood, unglazed pottery, or, on special occasions, prized, imported Chinese ceramics. If only for this reason, Mino kilns occupy an important place in the cultural history of Japan.
This cylindrical teabowl of the Seto Guro type reflects Rikyū's strong preference for simple, black teabowls. Seto Guro bowls were the first tea wares to reflect the Rikyū aesthetic of imperfection. Understated yet robust, they closely resemble Raku ware, the famous, similarly glazed pieces first made at Mino about 1570, at the close of the Muromachi period. Except for the outer rim, which flares slightly, the profile of this bowl is relatively straight, rising from a low, broad base. The almost nonexistent foot is formed by a shallow carved spiral. At Mino it was customary to use the potter's wheel to make teabowls and other small vessels. The strength of this bowl, however, derives from the hand-sculpting, done with a spatula, that followed the initial shaping on the wheel. The shape, reminiscent of a mallet, is associated with the Mutabora kiln, which was active during the Tenshō era (1573–91).
In keeping with the vessel's sturdy vigor is the heavy black glaze, apparently developed specifically for use on cylindrical Mino bowls. Its pitch-black, Iacquer-like luster was created by removing the bowl from the kiln at the peak of the firing process. This allowed the piece to cool much faster than it would have within the confines of the kiln. The bowl was also slightly underfired, which produced a mottled, pitted texture. The signs of age and of wear on the inside of the rim would also have been admired. All these features combine to form a harmonious work of calculated simplicity—a quintessential example of wabi taste.
[Miyeko Murase 2000, Bridge of Dreams]
 Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, Tokugawa Art Museum, and Nezu Institute of Fine Arts 1971, p. 99.  Ibid., p. 101.  Cort 1985, p. 122.  Ibid.
Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation , New York (until 2015; donated to MMA)
Tokyo National Museum. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," May 21, 1985–June 30, 1985.
Nagoya City Art Museum. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," August 17, 1985–September 23, 1985.
Atami. MOA Museum of Art. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," September 29, 1985–October 27, 1985.
Hamamatsu City Museum of Art. "Nihon bijutsu meihin ten: nyūyōku bāku korekushon," November 12, 1985–December 1, 1985.
New York. Asia Society. "Art of Japan: Selections from the Burke Collection, pts. I and II," October 2, 1986–February 22, 1987.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Die Kunst des Alten Japan: Meisterwerke aus der Mary and Jackson Burke Collection," September 16, 1990–November 18, 1990.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Japanese Art from The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 30–June 25, 2000.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan," October 21, 2003–January 11, 2004.
Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," July 5, 2005–August 19, 2005.
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 4, 2005–December 11, 2005.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," January 24, 2006–March 5, 2006.
Miho Museum. "Enduring Legacy of Japanese Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," March 15, 2006–June 11, 2006.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection," October 20, 2015–May 14, 2017.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Kyoto: Capital of Artistic Imagination," July 24, 2019–January 31, 2021.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Japan: A History of Style," March 8, 2021–April 24, 2022.
Tsuji Nobuo 辻惟雄, Mary Griggs Burke, Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha 日本経済新聞社, and Gifu-ken Bijutsukan 岐阜県美術館. Nyūyōku Bāku korekushon-ten: Nihon no bi sanzennen no kagayaki ニューヨーク・バーク・コレクション展 : 日本の美三千年の輝き(Enduring legacy of Japanese art: The Mary Griggs Burke collection). Exh. cat. [Tokyo]: Nihon Keizai Shinbunsha, 2005, p. 113, cat. no. 50.
Murase, Miyeko, Il Kim, Shi-yee Liu, Gratia W. Nakahashi, Stephanie Wada, Soyoung Lee, and David Ake Sensabaugh. Art Through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Vol. 2, Japanese Objects, Korean Art, Chinese Art. [New York]: Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, , p. 58, cat. no. 654.
Angela Salisbury, senior associate for Archival Processing, details what she has learned about Mary Griggs Burke as a collector and philanthropist from a trove of Mrs. Burke's personal correspondence, scrapbooks, and documents.
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