Imari is the name the Europeans in the late 1600’s used to describe a type of Japanese porcelain that was made at Arita and shipped through the port of Imari.
It is very richly decorated with under glaze blue, red enamel and gilding. Imari patterns, such as the floral “brocaded Imari”, were adapted and widely used by English porcelain factories, including Derby, Minton, Spode and Worcester.
With the end of the Ming Dynasty in the mid 1600’s, Chinese production of porcelain at Jingdezhen almost ceased, and the Dutch turned to Japan to fill the demand for porcelain in the West. Initially it consisted of blue-and-white wares produced in the town of Arita and exported through the port of Imari.
Japan in the 1700’s was an extremely insular country, hostile and virtually closed to foreigners. But the limited trade with Holland allowed impressive Imari dishes – named after the port of export – to reach wealthy European buyers. Imari porcelain with its rich blue and red glazes and gilding became much sort after in Europe as a change from Chinese wares.
Imari is a port on the eastern coast of the island of Kyūshū, Japan. The name has become associated with a certain type of porcelain, but it has two different interpretations, one used in Japan and the other used in the West. The Japanese terms Shoki and Ko Imari describe blue-and-white wares made in Arita. However what is generally known in the West as “Imari” is export porcelain decorated in a palette that usually includes under glaze blue, iron-red, and gilding, but may be extended to include green, brown (manganese), yellow, and (rarely) turquoise. There are also other categories beyond the conventional colour scheme; for example, “green family” Imari is dominated by green, with red or other colours being used in a minor role. Kenjo Imari (presentation ware) is another sub group but with a more formal arrangement of panelled zones of colour.
Initially developed in the second half of the 1600’s, the Imari style matured c. 1800. The finest examples of the style features a complex symphony of overlapping geometric or leaf-shaped panels often decorated with conflicting themes. Unfortunately the variety of the anti-rational patterns makes it difficult to categorize and present a chronology for this group of wares. Much decoration appears to be based on brocade: a rich silk texture run through with gold or silver thread. The majority of Imari wares are decorative, with pieces intended for display en masse. In the late 1600’s and 1700’s the most common objects were high shouldered, dome covered jars, trumpet-shaped beaker vases, and saucer dishes. Tea and coffee wares were also produced, but these are scarce.