Mellow albarello

Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a female saint. Inv. no. 824608. ©National Trust Collections

In the March issue of Apollo I read a piece by Emma Crighton-Miller about Delft blue-and-white which mentioned that albarelli – maiolica apothecary jars – are sometimes adapted and used as water jars by Japanese tea ceremony devotees.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with acanthus leaves. ©National Trust Collections

An example of a Japanese-made water jar inspired by the albarello look, in the Freer collection, can be seen here.

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a heraldic lion. Inv. no. 824610. ©National Trust Collections

This shows rather nicely how the taste for exoticism is not exclusively western. Indeed, Japanese tea taste is a rich mixture of international influences, including wares and materials from both Asia and Europe.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub's face. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with a winged cherub’s face. ©National Trust Collections

With that in mind the original albarelli do indeed have an air of wabi – the imperfect, modest beauty associated with the Japanese tea ceremony. Perhaps we could even call it ‘Hispano-Moresque wabi‘ or ‘Italian wabi‘?

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman's head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

Sicilian albarello decorated with a woman’s head and shoulders. Inv. no. 824609. ©National Trust Collections

These particular albarelli were bequeathed to the National Trust by antiques dealer Reginald Sneyers in 1989. They are on display at Ightham Mote, an ancient half-timbered house that was carefully restored by the Colyer-Fergusson family in the late nineteenth before being given to the National Trust by American philanthropist Charles Henry Robinson in 1985.

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

Back of the albarello shown above, decorated with floral motifs. ©National Trust Collections

So like that Japanese pseudo-albarello in an American collection, these jars, too, convey a multi-layered message about how we value and channel the past. In heritage, nothing is ever straightforward.

4 Responses to “Mellow albarello”

  1. deana@lostpastremembered Says:

    I am forever surprised by the blending of styles that took place in the 15th and 16th centuries and the way the West took to the exotic designs and techniques. The Hispano-Moresque influence on Italian pottery is so strong –– influencing the Deruta beauties on plates and these lovely ceramics. I can’t help but think that the great trading culture that swirled around the world also included Japan as lanes of trade opened for a while during that period — another fine source for ‘borrowing’ designs.

    I am with you about the wabi quality in the playful, sketch-like quality of the pieces. How big are they, I wonder?

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Former colleague and loyal reader Susan Walter just told me about the difference between ‘maiolica’ and ‘Majolica’, the former being the correct term for the Italian tin-glazed earthenwares produced during the Renaissance, whereas the latter is the trade name the Minton factory used for one of its wares during the nineteenth century. Thanks Susan.

    Deana, yes it is a marvelous global trade story.

    The first two albarelli are 305 mm high, the third one 235 mm.

  3. Sho Says:

    I am sorry for my English but I have to disagree on your definition of Wabi. Italian culture celebrates abundance, which is shown on these albarelli. Japanese wabi, on the other hand, requires strict simplicity on nuance that is clearly not shown on these art pieces. What I want to say is that your perception of wabi and humbleness in color is mixed up.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes you are quite right of course :) It is just that the unpretentious beauty of these albarelli reminded me of wabi. I suppose I am seeing Italian vernacular though a wabi lens.

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