What are imari plates?

Written by sarah clark
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What are imari plates?
Asian porcelain ware is known for its rich decoration. (PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Imari plates are a type of porcelain ware that originated in 17th century Japan. It is made with kaolin, a material that gives the plates their characteristic white base. These pieces are often richly decorated, with the paint applied over top of the glaze. Imari plates became popular in the West starting around 1656, and have remained on the market since then.

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Imari Porcelain

Imari plates, bowls and other ware are made from Imari porcelain. This porcelain was first created in the early 17th century. Its creation is accredited to the discovery of kaolin, a white clay that is used to make ceramics, as well as the presence of Korean potters that relocated to the southeastern portion of Japan after a series of wars in Korea, China and Japan. This porcelain was first created in the Japanese town of Arita. It is named for the port town of Imari, from which it was shipped. The porcelain became popular among European royalty in the 19th century.

Making the Plates

Kaolin clay is shaped and fired to make Imari plates. The plates are glazed and painted using the Sometsakae method, in which the plates were glazed first, with coloured paints being added on top of the glaze later. Originally, Imari plates were painted blue and red over a smooth white background. The bases of the plates were rough and unglazed. The plates were decorated with designs of bamboo, fruits, trees and flowers and came in hexagonal, rectangular, octagonal, circular and other shapes.

European Trade

Imari plates were first created in the Edo Era, also called the Tokugawa Period. This era spanned from 1603 to 1868. During this time, Japan elected to isolate itself from most of the rest of the world. The only three countries that were allowed to trade with Japan at this time were Korea, China and Holland. Many European nations during this period had a strong demand for Asian porcelain. The Dutch East India Company became Europe's supplier of Imari plates around 1656, when it began ordering mass shipments of the porcelain. Japanese porcelain artists began including yellow, green and purple to the plates to better appeal to the European market.

Identifying Imari Ware

Many of the first pieces of Imari ware did not feature any stamps signifying their makers or their shipping ports on their bases. An exception was specially made wedding ware. The bases of these pieces were marked with the symbols for "crane" or "turtle," animals that symbolise long life and happiness in Japanese culture. Later, marks were painted on the bottom to designate the kiln facility or other organisation that the porcelain came from. Some marks were used by different individual potters throughout different periods of time. Others were used exclusively by individual porcelain makers. Sometimes exported Imari ware would receive a stamp signifying their shipping port.

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