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Antique Japanese Moriage

satsuma moriage example
satsuma moriage example The raised lines you can see on this Ginger Jar are a great example of Satsuma Moriage.

Moriage is the term used to describe the fine and delicate layering or placing of clay on pieces of pottery.

The type clay that is used for this method is known as "slip" and is thicker and stickier than the clay used for the actual item.

The Japanese potters of centuries ago were enthused with this method and used it to create many brilliant designs over the years.

This technique was not just used by the Japanese potters though, it is a method of decorating fine porcelain and pottery that has been adopted all over the world.

In the case of Satsuma pottery, the clay was often added in small bumps, circles or lumps to decorate the piece.

On a satsuma vase for instance, you will see small raised dots, often painted a different color (such as white).

These are the moriage layers that are build up slowly as the piece is made, fired during each layer and then more raised areas are added before the piece is finished.

It is also possible that the moriage designs were made as separate mouldings and then applied to the Satsuma pieces.  However, this practice is more likely with more modern pieces.

Beading is also used quite heavily on this style of pottery too, with small dots of clay added to make raised bumps that are then painted when the piece has been fired and completed.  These raised areas on the pottery add to the overall design, making them more decorative and unique, compared to just a painted piece.

The combination of hand-painted designs, moriage and beading make some of the Satsuma pieces very collectable and valuable.

Other types of pottery from Japan also used this method of decoration too. Dragonware pottery is famed for it's intricate dragon designs that stand up and are raised from the piece, all classed as moriage pottery.

The shame about this kind of decoration is that it can be easily damaged over time and break off. Also some of the paint-work, gilding or colour can rub off if the pieces are not kept in good condition.

Often, with Dragonware tea sets especially, the moriage areas are often where the handles are, which can lead to some areas becoming damaged, just through daily use.

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Dragonware and Moriage Pottery

During the late 19th century, techniques used by the makers and styles of oriental pottery such as Satsuma and Dragonware began to evolve and progress as the potters became more skilled and had access to better and more advanced machinery and kilns.

The use of Moriage is widespread throughout the range of Japanese and Chinese pottery that has been available over the last 200 years. Moriage is the term used to describe the layering of small beads or lines of slip clay onto the surface of the pottery, vase or bowl which is then glazed over to leave a relief that can be felt and seen. The Moriage beads were often painted gold after the glaze had been applied, giving the pottery item a unique and special finish. The beads were all placed onto the pottery by hand before it was fired in the kiln. Later, when the mass production of such items was started, the addition of the slip clay beads was replaced by adding small dots of enamel which speeded up the production time of each of the items.

Moriage was also taken one step further and was used to create pottery vases and barrels that have heavily stylized relief designs. Pottery such as Dragonware featured this style and method heavily. The term Dragonware is used to describe a pot or vase that has an oriental dragon motif that has been built up using fine layers of slip clay, making a deep relief of the dragon or serpent that curls around the outside of the piece of pottery. Slip clay is a thick liquid clay that is used to make porcelain and pottery. The Dragonware was then painted in bright colors with scenes or images of Japanese or Oriental life, and the dragons were usually left with a minimal or white coloring. Although it began to be made in the late 19th century, Dragonware is still made today and is still very popular, being exported all over the world.

The raised, 3 dimensional parts of the moriage and Dragonware pieces were often added to the pottery using a technique known as slipwork. This involves mixing the clay with water to form a runny substance which is then poured into a shaped mold and allowed to set for a period of time before being added to the pottery just before the firing process.

Some of the Dragonware and beaded moriage pottery may not be marked, painted with or stamped with the mark of the designer or factory where it was made. It was common for pieces of Nippon pottery to have a small paper label applied which may have now been lost or destroyed.

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Satsuma Pottery

Satsuma pottery was made in or around Kagoshima in Kyushu, Japan in the later part of the 19th century through to the early 1920's in Satsuma in southern Japan.  It is also known that in the same location, there were kilns making pottery going as far back as the 16th century - so the location on the southern island of Japan was already steeped in pottery making history.  The term Satsuma, derived from the location where they were made then became the way that the pottery was described.  A typical piece if Satsuma pottery will be of a yellowy complexion and usually decorated with intricate and minute Japanese figures, landscapes and even dragons.  The designs also feature a form of decoration called moriage which is a term used to describe the use of raised enamel of Japanse pottery.

The clay used to make the Satsuma Pottery also differs depending on the location the item was made. For example, the clay used from the Kyushu area gives a darker tone to the pottery where as clay used from Kyoto gives a lighter appearance. The darker clay from Kyushu also allows the crackled glaze to have a darker, more pronounced appearance.

The Satsuma pottery business was also in full effect to mass produce many pieces of earthenware for export to Europe and America and there more perhaps more than 20 factories producing the pottery.  Therefore the majority of the pottery items from this location may be low quality and common but there were also makers of amazing fine pottery at the same time too.

There are several things that Satsuma Pottery is famous for and can be identified using these things.  The pottery nearly always has a cracked glaze and it also does not ring when tapped like some other china pottery does.  The craqueleuer of the glaze was done on purpose by the maker and is not a sign of the age of the piece as many people think.  The early pieces of pottery made in the Satsuma region were covered in a thick heavy glaze and the pieces are very rare and are seldom found at auction.  These earlier pieces do not feature many surface designs.  The highly collectible decorated pieces were made in the 19th and 20th century.

Another hallmark of the Satsuma vase, bowl or piece of pottery is the design that adorns the piece.  Lavished with scenes of Japan, the images are tiny and intricate and are possibly the most fascinating thing about the vases you can buy.  Images of people, immortals, dragons, flowers, landscapes, birds and events are all hand painted onto the pottery surface and then a light glaze is put over the surface which then cracks slightly.  These items are very beautiful pieces and are very collectible.

The factories and makers of Satsuma also produced smaller pieces such as bowls and geisha buttons which are also hand painted with the most amazing images.  The small sets of satsuma pottery buttons are highly collectible too and are a perfect addition to any satsuma collection.

When buying a Satsuma bowl, vase or piece if satsuma pottery, the marking on the piece will usually denote the name of the factory or company who has produced the item.  Due to the fact that there were so many makers of this fine china and export pottery, the markings will vary from piece to piece. If the item has the words "ROYAL SATSUMA" or the word Satsuma written in english, then it will be a fake, made for the mass market and possibly made in China.