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Satsuma porcelain has been traced to 17th century Japan, taking its name from the southern province of Kyushu Island.  Interestingly enough, this type of pottery was actually developed by Korean potters.  You will hear Satsuma referred to alternatively as "pottery" and "porcelain" but it is actually somewhere in between.  This type of porcelain is produced at lower temperatures than porcelain but higher temperatures than you would typically use to make pottery. 

Following Japan's invasion of Korea in the 17th century, the Prince of Satsuma brought potters from Korea, where they established a now famous kiln for making pottery.  The ongoing patronage of the prince's family, the Shimazu family was the daimyos (feudal lords) at the time that resulted in the great popularity of Satsuma porcelain. 

Production of Satsuma pottery is no longer limited to one area of Japan.  In fact, you will find three major yakis or kilns, which includes a famous one in Kyoto.  Satsuma was and still is made from brown clay, and the pottery today retains the cream colored body and crackled gaze.  Many pieces include a trademark deep blue color, calls "Goso blue".  Experts share that you can tell where a particular piece of Satsuma pottery was made by certain characteristics. 

For example, the Satsuma that is made in Kyoto will be lighter in body color, which was close to the color of cream whereas the Satsuma made in Kyushu is darker in tone.  All Satsuma pottery has what is called 'crackle', which are fines lines crisscrossing the pottery in a random matrix pattern, the result of the glazing and kiln firing process.  Satsuma pottery made in Kyushu has more pronounced crackle that is darker. 

The Shimzu family introduced the world to their beautiful earthenware pieces at the Paris International Exposition of 1867.  Attracted by their fine craftsmanship and gorgeous designs, Satsuma porcelain was an instant hit and their debut at the Paris International Exposition created a demand for the pottery in Europe.  It was not long before a strong export market developed. 

Old Satsuma pottery retains great value and antiques are highly prized.  If you are shopping for antique Satsuma porcelain, be sure to consult and expert to make sure you are truly getting what you paid for!  The first Korean potters made simple but elegant clay pottery that was used in the highly structured Japanese tea ceremony.  The pieces tended to be small, which is why they were used as incense burners and boxes, jars for water, and vases for use in the Ikebana, the Japanese art of floral arrangement. 

The first vessels were characterized by a cream-colored body, covered by a glaze, usually yellow in color.  The potters of Satsuma began using decorative approaches to their art in response to competition from Imari porcelain.  Imari porcelain was also made on the island of Kyushu, in the Arita area.  Near the end of the 18th century, tot wanting to lose consumers to the Imari potters, a famous Japanese potter named Ninsei learning the Imari techniques.  He in turn taught the Satsuma artists how to decorate their plain pottery using different colors of enamel as well as gold. 

Satsuma porcelain of today displays strong, thickly applied colors.  Popular patterns originally included floral designs, geometric patterns as the ever popular phoenix and dragon designs.  With the advent of the 19th century, landscapes and life-like figures became more common. 

The characteristics of the body are sometimes helpful in determining where a piece of Satsuma was made. The products of Kyoto often show a lighter creamy-white body whereas the Satsuma from Kyushu bears a somewhat darker tone and stronger crackle lines in the glaze.


 

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