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Hirado (Jp.)

A Japanese porcelain type characterized by its pure white body and clear glaze, often adorned with fine painting in underglaze blue. Some pieces are embellished with brown glaze. Others, more rarely, are covered with a fine celadon glaze. While Japanese scholars often technically refer to this material as Mikawachi ware, the popular term in both Japan and the West is Hirado ware.

Japanese porcelain with figure and landscape painting in blue on a white body, often depicting boys at play, made exclusively for the Lords of Hirado, near Arita, in the mid 18th to mid 19th centuries.

Hirado was an important kiln in the history of Japanese ceramics and its widely varied wares rank among the finest made and considered by many as the finest in the world in the 1780-1870s, others cut the end of that period earlier, to around 1840, or the time of the first Opium war in China. The kiln was active from the early 17th century until the demand dwindled due to changing taste on the export market, and the kiln closed early in the 20th century.

Hirado wares were originally made exclusively for the wealthy Matsura family. Close to the Korean peninsula, Hirado was a natural locus for international shipping and trade between Japan, Korea and China. A Korean potter - who married into a Japanese family and took the Japanese name Sannoj - found kaolin, the basic ingredient in porcelain clay, at the village of Mikawachi in the mid-1600s. Sannoj's kilns, established under command of the Hirado daimyo (feudal lord), began producing Hirado Mikawachi wares. Early Hirado ware was known in Japan for its high quality and fine craftsmanship.

The golden age of Hirado porcelain lasted from 1751-1843, during which time the finest porcelain in Japan was produced. When the economic structure of the feudal system began to disintegrate during the early 19th century, daimyo support of the kilns was replaced by export contracts with the Dutch East India Company.

In the 19th century, Hirado ware was especially in the Victorian West renowned as an desirable export ware. By the 1840s Hirado ware had become an export eagerly sought by sophisticated buyers in the West. Hirado porcelain was featured in the great international expositions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the advent of modernism in the early 20th century, however, demand for Hirado fell.

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