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Fine Japanese Bronze Flower "Dragon" Vase

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Directory: Antiques: Regional Art: Asian: Japanese: Metalwork: Pre 1900: item # 1137719

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Fine Japanese Bronze Flower "Dragon"  Vase
This spectacular Japanese bronze flower vessel was cast in futabana style with a classic low body, crisply cut shoulder and wide flaring trumpet-shaped mouth. Mid to late 19th century. Just above the shoulder and completely encircling the neck, which is decorated with a low relief Chinese-style lappet design, is a sculpture of a sinuous 30” long three-toed bronze dragon holding a pearl in one of its claws. This dragon is cast in exquisite detail, illustrating the animal’s horns, whiskers, beard and claws as well as individual scales on the body. The shoulder and base are fully decorated with low relief casting of stylized frothy waves. These more extensive and freely drawn representations of high waves, foam and spray are known as “araumi” (rough sea) motifs. Following the artistic traditions of T’ang China, such seas were initially portrayed with fearsome creatures among the waves. In Japan the dragon is often associated with Buddhism, and it is frequently paired with stylized cloud or wave design motifs, reflecting the animal’s association with both the sky and the oceans. There is a round bronze plate at the base of the interior which is cast in low relief with plum blossoms surrounding four “karahana” or “China flowers” within a circle. This type of bulbous bronze flower vase was used by the Ikenobo school, the oldest school of Japanese flower arrangement (ikebana). Kyoto was the birthplace both of ikebana and of the bronze flower vessel, and scrolls dating from the second half of the 17th century show the first examples of this most characteristic of Japanese bronze forms, the so-called futabana (two-flower) vase. By 1698, the futabana seems to have become one of the most popular ikebana vase forms, with handles that predominantly included dragons, shishi, butterflies and hares. With the emergence of flower arrangement and the tea ceremony as distinctively Japanese cultural pursuits, bronze casters began to develop new and innovative forms of vessels loosely based on Chinese originals but with an unmistakable Japanese elegance. These culminated in large bronze vases cast in exaggerated form for the classic, formal rikka style of flower arrangement, prevalent in the 17th century and early 18th centuries. With the re-opening of overseas contacts from the 1850’s, traditional styles were combined with the skills of the metal craftsmen and sword smiths in the manufacture of these magnificent showpieces, many of which were displayed at exhibitions in Europe and the United States. (See similar examples illustrated and discussed in the sumptuous book entitled FLOWER BRONZES OF JAPAN by Joe Earle.) CONDITION: This important Japanese flower bronze is in incredibly fine condition with a beautiful rich patina that comes with age. DIMENSIONS: 14” high, 12” diameter of mouth; weight 15 pounds. Ex private American collection. It is unsigned.

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