Exhibitions/ Art Object

Pair of Vases with Kingfishers and Brocade-like "Frames"

Meiji period (1868–1912)
ca. 1885
Cloisonné enamel; opaque enamel with copper-wire cloisons, copper rims
Each: H. 12 1/8 in. (30.8 cm); W. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm); D. 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Collection of Fredric T. Schneider
Not on view
Hayashi Kodenji I and his son, Kodenji II, worked together from the 1870s to 1915, executing designs by some of the leading artists of their day. By the time these two covered jars were created, it was impossible to know under whose supervision they were made. They represent the consummate mastery of flawless enamels and wirework on well-proportioned metalwork forms.

Compared with the earlier pair of vases in this case, these jars evidence the trend away from broad brocade-like enclosures, and instead have much narrower borders, mirroring contemporaneous trends in Japanese ceramics and metalware. The intricate pattern on the rounded jar’s lid resonates with the earlier style and showcases the studio’s virtuosity; it may also indicate a slightly earlier production date than the rectilinear jar. For both vessels, the birds can be interpreted as a flock, or as one bird in multiple phases of flight, much like the photographic motion studies pioneered by Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904).

Kodenji I was a central figure in Japanese cloisonné enameling. He founded a Nagoya-area enamellers’ guild in the mid-1880s and opened the first Japanese school to train enamel workers in 1894. He won gold or silver medals at a number of international expositions, beginning with the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

These vases were produced at a time when few Japanese enamel objects were signed. They represent cutting-edge enamel design and technique in the Nagoya area, where the art of cloisonné enameling had been revived only decades earlier.

By the 1880s, Japanese makers had begun to master the difficult task of creating broad areas of enamel uninterrupted by wires, which previously had been necessary to prevent cracking and peeling. This technical advance allowed the makers to produce pictorial spaces more in keeping with traditional Japanese painting styles. It ultimately led to the more open areas represented by the dark blue jars in this case, and to pure monochromes reminiscent of Chinese ceramic masterpieces.

Further reflecting Japanese traditions, the artist depicts the kingfishers in a monochrome sky surrounded by intricately wired brocade patterns, thus associating his vases with painted images mounted on a pair of silk hanging scrolls.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Birds in the Art of Japan," February 2, 2013–July 28, 2013.