Tile with design of Eight views of Ōmi

New Acquisitions: 2017

This tile is a geographic and cultural hybrid in every aspect of its design, material, and function. Designed in Japan and made to order in China, it embodies China’s enduring significance as the premier cultural model in Japan.

The thick, square tile was intended to support a charcoal brazier and kettle used to prepare tea. By the time the tile was made, two styles of tea drinking, both originating in China, were established in Japan, and this tile could have formed part of a set of utensils for either mode. The older form, chanoyu, originated in Song dynasty China and developed a distinctive Japanese form in the sixteenth century. Ming dynasty-style steeped tea, known in Japan as sencha, was introduced to Japan in the late seventeenth century and espoused by literati circles as an alternative to chanoyu. Sencha practitioners preferred the fresh variety of Ming and Qing dynasty objects.

On the back of the tile, surging waves surround a cartouche bearing a Chinese cyclical date corresponding to Jiaqing 18, or 1813, together with information about the tile’s origins. A Japanese man from Settsu Province (Hyogo Prefecture) commissioned this tile among a set of fifteen in an order sent to the Tao Zhen workshop in the Chinese porcelain capital of Jingdezhen. The man’s name, Hashimoto Kagetome, indicates that he was a warrior, but he identified himself as a Buddhist layman, implying that he had retired as head of his family. Perhaps he was devoting himself to practice of tea—though his order of fifteen tiles suggests that he planned to use some as gifts.

The front of the tile depicts a landscape painting. The Eight Views of Ōmi (here called Eight Views of Lake Biwa in Ōmi) represent places of literary and historical significance around Lake Biwa in Ōmi Province (Shiga Prefecture, east of Kyoto). The Eight Views of Ōmi theme emerged in fifteenth-century Japan in both painting and poetry, and it drew in turn on the famous Song dynasty Chinese subject Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang. Ink paintings of the Chinese Eight Views by Song painters Yujian and Muqi belonged to the collection of the ruling Ashikaga shoguns in the fifteenth century and became the premier images for chanoyu display.

Cobalt pigment on the tile translates an underdrawing rendered with ink into the porcelain materials of Jingdezhen. The inscription shows that the drawing was provided by an artist of the Kano school, the official source of paintings for the elite warrior class in Japan. Kano Eigaku (1790–1867) was the official painter for the Ii daimyo house based in Hikone, near Lake Biwa. The tile’s four narrow sides display Chinese poems celebrating the Eight Views of Ōmi theme.

This tile is one of eight known to survive from the original fifteen. One is in the Shanghai Museum. Six are in Japan, including one in the Hikone Castle Museum, which houses the former collection of the Ii warrior family. An intriguing possible connection among the Ii house, the artist Kano Eigaku, and the tile’s commissioner deserves further research. The tile also belongs to a small group of porcelain objects—chanoyu water vessels, serving dishes, and trays—that Japanese teamen commissioned from Jingdezhen workshops in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Little attention has been paid to these order-made pieces until recently.

Drawing by Kano Eigaku (1790–1867)
China, Jingdezhen, Tao Zhen workshop
Qing dynasty, Jiaqing era, 1813
Porcelain with cobalt pigment under clear glaze
4.0 x 28.8 x 26.2 cm
Gift of Ian and Mary Heriot
Freer Gallery of Art F2017.4