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Raku IX Ryonyu (1756-1834) - Incense Container
Japan
19th c.; 1811-1834
Glazed ceramic (Raku)
H: 3.9 cm (1 1/2 inch), L: 6.1 cm (2 2/5 inch)

Incense container in the shape of a bottle gourd (hyotan). Gourds have long been used in Japan as containers. Beyond their obvious utility, they have been regarded as lucky charms. Gourd shapes are common in Japanese design, appearing for example, as architectural cut-out motifs and as cartouches. In Japanese art, naturalistic renderings of gourds were especially popular in the Edo period. The fact that the gourd is associated with Chinese immortals (sennin) reflects Taoist beliefs. The shape of the double gourd was said to represent heaven and earth, and the fruit itself was thought to symbolize rebirth and immortality. An incense container in a shape referring to Taoism makes a lot of sense as the importance of incense in Taoist rituals can not be overstated. The censer is the tool to enable communication between the material and the spiritual worlds. In a tea gathering – the practical context of an incense container – the hearth functions as censer. The incense container is sealed on the inside of the lid. The original box (tomobako) is signed “Ryonyu” and sealed “Raku”. The ninth generation Kichizaemon remained in this position from 1770 until 1811, when he retired and received the name of Ryonyu from Ryoryosai (1775-1825) the ninth generation Iemoto of Omotesenke. Ryonyu continued to produce ceramics, both with his son and successor Tannyu (1795-1854), in Kyoto, and at his retirement residence in Ishiyama, Omi Province.

Original box (tomobako)

Reference
PITELKA, Morgan: Raku Handmade Culture; Raku Potters, Patrons, and Tea Practitioners in Japan, Honolulu 2005.
RAKU KICHIZAEMON XV: Raku rekidai. Kyudai Ryonyu (The Raku generations: Ryonyu). Exhibition catalogue Raku Museum, Kyoto 1989.
Raku IX Ryonyu (signature and seal): Cf. Encyclopedia of Signatures and Seals (Rakkan Kao Daijiten), Kyoto 1982, p.1436.

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