A large pair of Imari porcelain figures of ladies

Edo period, late 17th century to early 18th century

Height: 56.5 cm, 22.24 inches

Each is similarly modelled as a lady standing with one foot forward, the left hand raised to her lapel and the right hand holding her robe. Both wear kimonos, decorated in underglaze blue, iron-red and black enamels and gilt, the inner layer with the design of scrolling peony and the outer robe (uchikake) with wisteria and pine trees among rockwork and a stream. The hair is pulled up and wound around an ornamental pin. The distinctive hairstyle was innovated by ladies in the Imperial Palace and later adopted by the courtesans. Also characteristic of the period is the narrow black sash (obi) and loose outer robe.

Figures of this type, called katamono (‘things made on a form’) by the Japanese, are representative of a popular type of porcelain figure produced in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are found with some frequency in European collections, particularly in the Netherlands. A woman, probably a courtesan, depicted in this manner is called bijin or beauty; sometimes called a Kanbun beauty after the Kanbun era (1661-1673) when they were first produced. Most of the figures of bijin are in the Kakiemon palette, while examples in the Imari palette as this pair are rare.

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