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06 Jul 2013 - 01 Sep 2013

The University Museum and Art Gallery is honoured to present an exhibition of 56 cloisonne enamels and 16 embroidered textiles from the collections of the Ise Foundation in Tokyo, Japan. These treasures are executed in sophisticated techniques and exemplary of the high skill and exquisite craftsmanship for which the Meiji Period (1868–1912) is celebrated.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, following Japan’s opening to the West during the Bakumatsu period (1853–1867) at the eve of the Edo reign, the country transformed itself from an isolated feudal nation to a world power. In this rapid social development and modernization of its industries, Japan’s traditional arts were neither suppressed nor extinguished but, after the young Emperor Meiji (1852–1912) assumed the throne in 1867, Japan’s new leadership realised that the historic skills of the metalworker, lacquerer, enameller and ceramic and textile artist could assume an important role in an open and more accessible international consumer market.

In subsequent years, enamelled objects (shippo) were made on the orders of the Imperial Household—they often show the kikumon or chrysanthemum symbol indicating that they were commissioned by the Emperor as gifts for foreign dignitaries and royalty—or for merchants who supplied local and overseas markets. Japanese manufacturers participated in regularly organized international expositions and World Fairs in Europe and America, where they displayed an array of artistic creativity and technical virtuosity (the Nagoya Cloisonné Company won a first prize at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873). Among the most important technical advance in Japanese enamel making was the development of the Yusen-shippo by Tsunekichi Kaji (1803–1883) in 1833, who glued thin filigree wires of brass, gold or silver onto the base metal, which became both an integral part of the design, and prevented the enamels from running during firing. In 1868 Tsukamoto Kaisuke (1828–1887) fired Jitai-shippo, a ceramic pottery he decorated with filigree wires and fired enamels. A decade later, Namikawa Sōsuke (1847–1910) created Musen-shippo in 1879, an enamel ware without wires that allowed the artist to compose landscape designs with more fluid outlines.

Like the shippo wares, Japanese embroidered textiles were first produced during the Nara period (710-794) and became known for their technical innovation. They testify to artistic exchanges between Japan and the West in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries. An evolution of original dyeing technology from the Nara to the Edo period (1615–1868), led to the development of so-called “embroidery pictures” that stand out by their usage of glossy silk thread, which allowed Japanese needleworkers to compose new expressions superseding though historically related to conventional paintings with thread. Ribbed silk (shioze) and metallic threads on silk brocades are but few of the precious techniques and materials that make this handicraft a modern and internationally appreciated art form that uses and re-interprets an abundance of traditional iconographic compositions, symbols and figures.

We thank the Ise Foundation for giving us the opportunity to share their masterpieces with the public and to show together for the first time two very different but equally sophisticated and innovative art forms. May the dazzling colours and opulent lustre provide evidence for the world-wide changes in social and domestic life towards the end of the nineteenth century and the longing for luxury that characterises the bourgeois society of that era.


Embroidered Wall Hanging with a Peacock and Peahen, Cherry Blossom and Peonies

Designed by Miki; Emboidered by Sumiyama

 Japan, c. 1900

 H: 300 cm W: 199 cm

Vase With Goldfish (Ginbari&Tsuiki)

Artist: Shoubei TOMIKI

 H: 39 cm W: 19.5 cm

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