Final Project – Contextual Analysis

Date/ Period
Early 18th Century
RegionJapan, Arita
Object size: 36 x 22 x 12.5 cm
Collection of
Asian Civilizations Museum

Spirit keg depicting a Dutchman sitting on top of a barrel

The Keg is made from Japan during the early 18th Century. During the 17th century, China’s Ming Dynasty came across a political and economic upheaval. The beloved Chinese blue and white porcelain that was favored had ceased trading. The Dutch needed a substitute for their Chinese porcelain and turned to Japan.

Japan imitates the way China paints their porcelain; in blue and white, so that it fills the gap of Porcelain supply when China stopped their porcelain trade. There was a certain for of porcelain making by Arita Kilns that they developed for Japanese Tea Ceremony thus, the Arita kilns adopted their own motifs different from of the Chinese kilns. It is seen on the flowers and motifs on the barrel and square base. 

In the early 17th Century, Japan opened their country to the Dutch. That was when Japan developed knowledge from the Dutch; gathering the knowledge of Western technology and medicine.

The Keg is an example of Japan Arita kilns taking a Dutch man as their muse on their Keg; appealing to the Dutch. It is seen to be a Dutch man as it is seen from visual analysis that the figure’s action has a form of enthusiasm for alcohol and that it is an homage to the Dutch. This may be one of the examples of Japan giving tribute to the Dutch for bringing knowledge from outside their country and letting Japan gain study from that. The Figure gives off a positive and chirpy character which indicates how Japan sees the Dutch in a positive manner.

Thus, the Japanese kilns took the role of the porcelain supplier when the Chinese had stopped their porcelain production and exportation. They learnt the craftsmanship of the Chinese by imitating the technique to fill in the gaps that the West market had demanded. However, Japanese kilns had also utilized in their own art style. The motifs and craftsmanship had developed from there and thus, when the Chinese resumed their exports in 1980, there was a role reversal of the Chinese kilns imitating Japanese kilns’ Imari Style.

In the context of our group’s theme, the relation of Chinese kilns depicts the competitive market for porcelain (the demand and supply) and that there was an exchange of knowledge of techniques and craftsmanship. Thus, a network of cultures being traded during this time period all due to the fact the Chinese had stopped porcelain exportation during the Qing Dynasty.

Final Project – Free Writing

Spirit keg depicting a Dutchman sitting on top of a barrel, Early 18th Century, Porcelain, Japan
“The spirit keg is modelled as a drunk and cheerful open mouthed Dutch Man sitting astride a barrel, holding a bottle in his raised left hand and a stemmed wine glass in the other. The barrel is decorated on the front with a peony flanked by spraying plants and a ridged hole meant for a tap. The barrel rests on a hollow rectangular base decorated with flowers, volutes, and a zigzag pattern band. The detachable head is surmounted by a cap adorned with some foliate and petal shaped pompoms in iron-red enamels. His cuffs and his coat with buttons and zigzag motifs were all painted in blue and white, which is rarer than other figures decorated in polychrome colours. Ceramic figures on barrels were popular ‘follies’ in the Netherlands and other European countries. A variety of such figures were made in Delft factories in polychrome, as well as in blue and white from the early 18th century. This figure is a Japanese export porcelain example made in imitation of the comparable Dutch Delft wares.”
— Arts Civilizations Museum, Singapore

Visual Analysis:
The Spirit Keg shown  in the picture is from early 18th Century Japan; the same period when Chinese kilns produced porcelain in Japanese styles for Europe in the 18th Century. A man dressed in traditional chinese clothes sits on top a barrel as the figure holds a wine cup to hold alcohol and an bottle. A flower is seen on the figure’s hat as well. The figure looks positive; buoyant and chirpy as he pumps his left fist with the bottle to the air. I can infer from this figure’s action that it may be the enthusiasm with alcohol and that it is a homage to the Dutch for something being depicted close to home (- especially as the figure depicts a Dutchman).

The Spirit Keg is painted in blue and white; cobalt blue pigment  that is seen in Chinese porcelain. It shows how Japan had filled the gap in Porcelain supply during the 17th Century when China stopped porcelain exportation. Having a a Dutch Figure in the Spirit Keg shows that the Dutch turned to the Arita kilns in southern Japan.

The Keg is also painted with flowers and motifs on the barrel and the square base. The flowers are painted similarly that is used by Arita Kilns which can infer that the Japanese continues to adopt their own style despite having to fill the gap in Chinese porcelain supply and to attract the West buyers.