Japanese Antiques by Ichiban Oriental and Asian Art
A Makuzu Kozan Kogo - Monkey Reaching for the Moon

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Ichiban Japanese & Oriental Antiques
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Marion, CT 06444-0395

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A Makuzu Kozan Kogo - Monkey Reaching for the Moon
This is a superb round kogo by the Meiji ceramics master, Makuzu Kozan. It has a design of the classic Zen story of a gibbon monkey peering down at a reflection of the moon in a pond’s surface and hoping to reach down and catch the moon’s reflection – see footnote **. The design is executed in underglaze cobalt blue under a light tan crackle glaze similar to Satsuma. The interior of the kogo has a design in underglaze blue of what appears to be either rolling waves or rolling hills with low vegetation – this design is on both sides of the interior.

I think this piece is one of Kozan’s small masterpieces - it is so subtle - so understated - so dreamlike. Some who have looked at it said that it appeared to be faded. In fact is based on a famous 18th century scroll by Hakuin, (1685-1768 ), titled “Monkey Reaching for the Moon” - the scroll is in the Victoria museum. It you look at the original scroll and the ceramic adaptation by Kozan, it is important to remember that the subject is of a monkey by moonlight. Accordingly, it must be very soft and subtle to capture such a scene and still see the subject monkey reaching down into the pond trying to capture the reflection of the moon.

There is an impressed mark that translates to “Makuzu” – the mark of Makuzu Kozan. The kogo measures 3 ¼” diameter and is 1” thick. It is very good condition – there is a stable hairline crack in the bottom section that measures 2 ¼” in length. It does go through to the other side; however, it does not show any evidence of having cracked in half and repaired. We have looked at both ends of the hairline crack with a ten-power loupe and it clearly ends without reaching either side. It dates from the Meiji period, circa 1870-1910.

Miyagawa (Makuzu) Kozan (1842-1916) was appointed artist to the Japanese Imperial household and is considered to be one of the greatest potters of the Meiji Era. He came from a long line of potters based in Kyoto and took over the family business in 1860, at the age of nineteen, In 1870 he opened a workshop in Yokohama arrived at his artistic height during the 1880’s.

**A monkey attempting to grab the moon reflected in the water is a popular theme in Zenga. The moon on the water, which looks real, symbolizes the illusion of existence - from the Buddhist perspective there are no permanent, fixed entities that we can catch and hold in our grasp. The Zen Master, Hakuin, 1686-1768, wrote this poem about the monkey reaching for the moon:

"The monkey is reaching

For the moon in the water.

Until death overtakes him

He'll never give up.

If he'd let go the branch and

Disappear in the deep pool,

The whole world would shine

With dazzling pureness."

The monkey stares longingly at the moon's reflection in the pool far below. All are unable to see the true beauty of life even as they hold it in their hands. Zen Buddhism and gibbon painting in Japan are closely linked and this is supported by the fact that the majority of Japanese gibbon paintings depict zen themes satirizing human folly. Gibbons reaching for the moon itself or its reflection alludes to a desire to possess that which cannot be used or the desire to obtain that which cannot be held.

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