Height 8.8cm x diameter 19.1cm
Museum no. 680-1901
Purchased from the sale of the Bowes collection.
The bowl shows all the indicators of an early example of Japanese cloisonné enamels with its heavily applied semi-matt enamels and thick brass wire. The decoration is of four Chinese philosophers (one is just visible) and, in the interior, a dragon all on a ground of stylised clouds and abstract floral motifs. Curiously, the interior of the bowl is very rough and appears to have been only partially polished.
It is fitting that the V&A should have acquired 'Bowes Collection, Enamels No.1'. James Lord Bowes (1834-1899) had acquired a large collection of Japanese art, including numerous pieces of cloisonné enamels, and was among the earliest of collectors in the West to write in detail on this subject. He had extremely adamant views about the history and development of Japanese cloisonné, almost all of which were totally wrong. He classified Japanese enamels into groups which, under his scheme, placed many objects in the eighteenth, or even seventeenth centuries. While his views were criticised by many of his contemporaries for being totally out of keeping with what was already known at the time, many of his ideas persisted right up to the late twentieth century. This bowl is illustrated in Bowes, Japanese Enamels, p.41, Plate V.