Incense container in the shape of toy top

Artist: Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743) Edo-Iriya Workshop
Historical period(s)
Edo period, ca. 1731-1743
Brown clay with white slip, enamels, and iron pigment under lead glaze, enamels over glaze
H x Diam: 5.4 × 9.6 cm (2 1/8 × 3 3/4 in)
Japan, Tokyo
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Ceramic, Container

Incense box (kogo)

Edo period (1615 - 1868), incense, Japan

Matsumoto Collection, Kyoto [1]

To 1900
Bunkio Matsuki (1867-1940), Boston, to 1900 [2]

From 1900 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Bunkio Matsuki in 1900 [3]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [4]


[1] See Original Pottery List, L. 744, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] See note 1.

[4] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Matsumoto Collection
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Bunkio Matsuki (C.L. Freer source) 1867-1940


This deceptively simple object probably carries at least two levels of meaning and was intended to amuse a sophisticated audience. With its childlike painting, the ceramic box resembles a child's toy top made of painted wood. It also replicates in clay a type of imported luxury item that Japanese collectors interpreted as "tops"--a form of Chinese lacquer box from the late Ming dynasty (sixteenth to seventeenth century) decorated with polychrome concentric circles. Both lacquer boxes and ceramic versions of them were used in the tea ceremony as a container for pellets of incense. This box was made by Ogata Kenzan at the end of his life, when he lived in Edo (modern Tokyo).

Published References
  • Richard L. Wilson. The Art of Ogata Kenzan: Persona and Production in Japanese Ceramics., 1st ed. New York and Tokyo. figs. 91, 325.
  • Polly Apfelbaum, Erin Dziedzic, Ezra Shales, Lynn Zelevansky. Polly Apfelbaum: Waiting for the UFOs [a space set between a landscape and a bunch of flowers]. Exh. cat. Kansas City, Missouri. p. 37, fig. 16.
  • Richard L. Wilson. The Potter's Brush: The Kenzan Style in Japanese Ceramics. Exh. cat. Washington. p. 103, fig. 28.
  • Kenzan no togei, Zuroku hen [Ceramics of Kenzan, 1663-1743)]. Exh. cat. Tokyo. p. 148.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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