Shunga Porcelain Sake Wedding Set

Vintage Japanese Kutani | Shunga Porcelain Sake Wedding Set

Age:1868-1912 (Late Edo Period)

Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 2-0”h x 5-3/8”w; 1-3/4”h x 4-5/8”w; 1-1/2”h x 3-7/8”w; 1-1/2”h x 3-1/4”w; 1-0”h x 2-0”w

This five, (5) piece wedding set is very unusual and represents a time when sex education came in the form of beautifully detailed, hand-painted art. Each piece has a trumpet type foot supporting the bowl, which is elaborately decorated and each having a gold rim to finish off each piece, (smallest being undecorated). This set represents one of the couples dowry objects.                   

As well as a variety of traditional customs spread throughout the year sake, also plays a part in certain special events in Japanese life. Traditional Japanese weddings are usually conducted in the grounds of a Shinto shrine. The bride and groom, dressed in traditional Japanese kimono, both drink sake in a highly ritualized ceremony known as San-san-ku-do, which literally translates as ‘three-three-nine-times’. The couple each takes three sips from differently sized cups, each one slightly larger than the other. The smallest of the cups, usually undecorated, represents heaven which the Buddhist priest uses, the second the earth, and the third-fourth-fifth, humankind. Odd numbers are seen as being lucky in Japan, and drinking three times is thought to be particularly auspicious. In Japanese tradition, there are five elements, (water, fire, earth, wood, and metal) which are also represented in some form as wedding gifts.

Vintage Condition: All pieces are in exceptional condition with no cracks, chips or fading. As a collector, I have not seen such a beautiful set with such detailing. No cracks or dings, and “as is” retaining the original craft/workmanship. Any discoloration, chipping/cracking, surface wear or structural damage noted. 

NOTE: Shunga is a Japanese term for erotic art. Translated literally, Shunga means "picture of spring" (Spring being a euphemism for sex). In the Edo period it was enjoyed by rich and poor, men and women, and despite being out of favor with the Shogunate, carried very little stigma. Shunga themes appear in print form, (woodblocks, scrolls, and panel floor screens), textiles, (primarily worn by men), carvings, (netsuke and shop signs), and on porcelain and pottery.

Shunga was popular with all the Ukiyo-e artists, as it was more profitable than "normal" art. Few Shunga pieces however bear signatures or seals. There was a time when they were subject to official censorship. In practice however, restrictions in producing and selling erotic, (Shunga), art were never very strict.

Classifying Shunga as a kind of pornography can be misleading in this respect. They were used for sex education of young men and women. It was a common tradition that the bride of a daimyo - a high-standing feudal lord – bought or was gifted Shunga art in all forms, to compliment the couples wedding furniture.