Seminar: “Gifts Worthy of the Shogun: Nabeshima Porcelain in the Macdonald Collection" (1)

Three lectures by Daniel Chen, Ceramic Art Historian and Curator, the Brian Haughton Gallery, London, formerly of the Gardiner Museum, Toronto, Canada
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Seminar: “Gifts Worthy of the Shogun: Nabeshima Porcelain in the Macdonald Collection" (1)

Time & Location

Feb 08, 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM
via Zoom

About the Event

Prices for the seminar are as follows:

CCC Members: $ 45


When the Ming Empire collapsed in 1644, Dutch traders in Asia sought new suppliers to satisfy the European craze for porcelain. Japan, having only begun porcelain production in the early seventeenth century, seized the opportunity to become a new source of global porcelain trade. They first adapted their wares to imitate the Chinese, but quickly developed a confident and unique Japanese aesthetic. European collectors soon came to admire and prefer Japanese porcelain, with such designs known in the West as ‘Hob in the Well’ and ‘Lady in the Pavilion.’ In Japan, however, a very different kind of porcelain was prized. Nabeshima porcelain made exclusively for the Tokugawa shogun was reserved for Japan’s elite class. Its meticulous design and perfect form are little known to audiences outside of Japan. This lecture series will discuss Nabeshima wares—their origins, context, and connoisseurship — drawing from the Macdonald Collection at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto, Canada.

Lecture 1: The Origins of Nabeshima Porcelain

Prior to the seventeenth century, Japan relied on foreign trade primarily with China for the consumption of porcelain. This changed around 1610 with the discovery of kaolin deposits in Arita. This lecture explores the origins of Japanese porcelain production by looking at preceding events and key figures whose impact led to the establishment of kiln sites and skilled labor. Through the role of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598), Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), and the Nabeshima clan, Japan quickly produced a suitable substitute for Chinese porcelain to be used and appreciated for both a domestic and foreign market. With the collapse of China’s Ming dynasty (1364-1644), Japan became a leading supplier of porcelain, which introduced further investment and innovation contributing to the development of Nabeshima porcelain.

Lecture 2: Presentation, Use and Appreciation

In the Edo period (1615-1868), Japan experienced a new era of peace and stability under the governance of the Tokugawa shogunate, based in Edo (modern day Tokyo). To maintain control over his subjects, the shogun required vassal lords called daimyo to present goods and reside during alternate years between their home and the de facto ruling capital. Sumptuary regulations controlled public decorum, affecting all manner of behavior such as dining, where Nabeshima porcelain was used and appreciated beyond its utilitarian function.

Lecture 3: Technical Perfection: Form and Decoration

Nabeshima porcelain was made for the shogun’s pleasure, hence its rarity and limited representation in collections outside of Japan. It is admired for its technical achievement, which required the very best potters and decorators whose skill and livelihood were supported by the Nabeshima daimyo. The Macdonald Collection features 17th-century examples of Nabeshima porcelain from its early to peak periods of production, reflecting the development of form and decoration characteristic of this type.


Daniel Chen (M.Litt.) is a ceramic art historian and curator with the Brian Haughton Gallery, London. Until recently, he was the Gardiner Museum’s Adjunct Curator of Asian Ceramics, where he continues consulting curatorially with a forthcoming publication on Japanese porcelain in the Macdonald Collection, as well as a digital interpretation of the Gardiner museum’s Japanese collection. Recent projects include the re-installation of the Gardiner’s Japanese gallery with Meredith Chilton, as well as curating the Chinese porcelain exhibition Across the Globe: The Anne Gross Collection at the Gardiner from November 2015 to March 2016. He received his masters’ degree from the University of Glasgow/Christie’s Education, London. His current research explores the historic interaction between Asian and European porcelain.

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