Tea bowl stand

DATE: 17th - 18th century (made)
PLACE: Japan (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Silk or wood core covered in black lacquer and gilt

Although tea-drinking was introduced to Japan in the early Heian Period (794-1185), the Japanese tea ceremony, or chanoyu, was only formalised by tea masters in the 16th century. This complex ritual for preparing and serving tea according to specific etiquette (sarei) reached unprecedented levels of aesthetic refinement in which each utensil used in the ceremony was essential to its proceedings. Tea bowls, kettles, caddies, and fresh water containers were personally chosen by the tea master for their functional but also aesthetic qualities.

Footed tea bowl stands (Tenmoku-dai) would have been used in formal tea gatherings when serving nobility or other important guests. This example is decorated with a traditional lacquer decoration known as Kōdai-ji makie where a black lacquer background is decorated with gold, designed to evoke the ‘Seven grasses of Autumn’ (aki no nanakusa 秋の七草), a decorative theme eternalised in Japanese literature and poetry to celebrate the season. The seven grasses are plants all indigenous to Japan and includes Bush clover, Valerian, Japanese silver grass, Arrowroot, Nadeshiko, Joe Pye Weed, and Balloon flowers.