Satsuma ware is a type of Japanese ceramic, originally made by Korean potters who emigrated to the Southern province of Satsuma around 1600. Although early Satsuma wares were made from dark and plainly decorated clays, the name of this style slowly became associated with ivory-coloured pieces with elaborate decoration. Using gold, coloured enamels and a crackled glaze, potters across Japan perfected the art of intricately detailed ornament. Westerners greatly admired the Satsuma wares displayed by Japan at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris and the Vienna International Exposition of 1873, provoking a great demand for these ceramics in Europe and America.
Satsuma decoration most often includes minute patterns paired with scenes of formal processions, samurai soldiers, divine beings, oiran (senior courtesans) and rakan (Buddha’s disciples). This teapot is decorated with a procession of oiran and their attendants. Its very small size at 7.3 cm tall suggests it may have been admired as a purely decorative object rather than used for making tea. The base bears the signature of the celebrated Satsuma painter Nakamura Baikei. A lengthy, gilt text also reveals his reliability for quality and the difficulty in decorating the piece, an inscription which appears on all of the painter’s works.