Of the many items in Knole’s collection, one of my favourite pieces is the large Japanese Imari dish in Lady Betty’s China Closet. It is a beautiful porcelain bowl, our largest ceramic piece, you could sit in it!. As well as being a large piece it is stunningly decorated in the classic Imari style, using vivid red, gold and blue colours.
Imari porcelain is the name for Japanese porcelain wares made in the town of Arita, north western Japan. They were exported to Europe extensively from the port of Imari, Saga, between the second half of the 17th C and first half of the 18th C. The Japanese, as well as Europeans, called them Imari.
It is characterised by the use of a cobalt blue underglaze and red and gold over glaze. The subject matter of the decoration is diverse, ranging from foliage and flowers to people, scenery and the abstract. Some Imari designs were adopted from China, but most designs were uniquely Japanese owing to the rich Japanese tradition of paintings and costume.
The large dish at Knole is decorated with a selection of scenes depicting water. From the crashing waves of the sea, to ponds surrounded by birds and waterfowl, to ships and mountains in the distance. These water scapes form the central feature in the bowl, above which is a band around the top rim in blue and gold depicting three large dragons. There are also flower decorations all over and in the very centre a circle of leaf patterns in red and gold. Around the underside is a very simple blue pattern in stark contrast to the detailed decoration and vivid colours of the interior. All of which makes up, in my opinion, for a striking, impressive and attractive piece of art.
The dish shows signs of previous repairs, predominantly to a large crack near the top, which has been expertly repaired.
We have a selection of other pieces of Imari, some are also shown in the china Closet, which is a specifically designed area in the house for displaying some of Lady Betty Germain’s collection of porcelain.
We are in the process of returning the China Closet back to a historic display, in which the Imari dish is a central feature on the floor. Previously, the dish had stood upright against the wall at the top of the Lead Stairs, seen only as the public exited and therefore often overlooked. In its new location and position the dish can be better seen and as a result is much more appreciated and admired.