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