Kintsugi pottery is an ancient Japanese art form that involves the repair of pottery and ceramics with gold or other precious metals. While it used to be a relatively niche practice in Japan, Vietnam, and China, today it is much more well-known thanks to the beautiful results that it can produce.
But what is kintsugi pottery, how does it work, and what makes it so unique?
What Is Kintsugi Pottery?
Kintsugi is one of the few ways you can salvage a broken item and make it more beautiful than it was before. Usually, when people break a teacup or a plate, it shatters and they have to throw away the pieces. However, the ancient Japanese found that this was a waste of perfectly good pottery.
I have discussed raku pottery in a previous post and what makes that particular type of pottery unique is that it was heavily influenced by wabi. Wabi was the Japanese belief that simple and naturalistic forms were more beautiful than overly perfect and symmetrical forms. For that reason, raku pottery and similar types of pottery were renowned by tea masters of Japanese tea ceremonies for their natural and loose forms.
Kintsugi is also influenced by the wabi outlook. This technique is all about naturalistic forms and the value of imperfection over perfection. Many pottery repair techniques attempt to put pottery together and hide any sign of damage. On the other hand, kintsugi actually highlights the points of damage and the cracks throughout the pottery.
This is one of the many characteristics that make kintsugi ceramics unique. Kintsugi’s connection to wabi and the Zen philosophy makes kintsugi not only an art form but it leans near to the philosophical realm as well. Because this art form highlights the damage that the pottery has sustained, kintsugi allows the pottery to tell a story of its past. This transforms the pottery into something that is more than an object but almost something with a life of its own.
Kintsugi and the Japanese Tea Ceremony
Kintsugi and the Japanese tea ceremony, known in Japanese as chanoyu, have always been closely related. As mentioned before, tea masters for this kind of ceremony have long appreciated the wabi philosophy. For that reason, they would often choose pieces of pottery to reflect the art of wabi.
Tea masters would also choose pottery as a way to display their artistic tastes to their guests during the tea ceremony. For a tea master, choosing a piece of pottery would determine how others would think of him, his reputation, and his artistic sensibilities as a host and as a person.
Shattered pottery for a tea master and for members of the Japanese aristocracy was not actually a bad thing. In fact, some people would even intentionally smash pottery (including expensive pottery) in order for it to be repaired with the kintsugi technique. Tea masters in particular adored kintsugi because it would give their pottery new life. In a way, kintsugi allowed raku and other pottery to compound the wabi and Zen philosophies.
After all, no piece of kintsugi pottery could ever be exactly the same. Instead of throwing away broken pieces of pottery, kintsugi artists could turn them into something unique and beautiful.
The Origins of Kintsugi
Before kintsugi, the main method of pottery repair involved metal staples. You would need to use these staples to connect the many shattered pieces of potteries. The finished product would look like sutures covering a piece of reconstructed pottery. Needless to say, this technique was very ugly and even people in ancient Japan thought so.
Somewhere along the way, people found that they could use precious metals to put together broken pottery instead of staples. Gold is one of the most popular metals due to its bright color, especially against raku pottery which is often dark in color. However, pure gold is not actually used.
Instead, the artist will use lacquer mixed with gold powder. The artist may also use silver or platinum instead of gold for a different look.
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