Ancient Korean pottery and ceramics are discussed in detail across kingdoms and time periods while explaining the intricacies of different types of pottery designs and forms.
Korean Pottery and Ceramics - History
Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910) is considered the golden age of Korean pottery.
Identify the Ming, Confucian, and Buddhist influences on pottery created during Korea’s Joseon Dynasty
- During Korea’s Joseon Dynasty , ceramic wares were considered to represent the highest quality of achievement from imperial, city, and provincial kilns , the last of which were export-driven wares.
- Wares evolved along Chinese lines in terms of color, shape, and technique, and the Ming influence in blue and white wares using cobalt blue glazes was evident in a great deal of Joseon pottery.
- Buddhist designs such as lotus flowers and willow trees prevailed in celadon wares. The form most often seen was that of pear-shaped bottles also notable were thinner glazes and colorless glazes for buncheong or stoneware.
- The rise of white porcelain occurred as a result of Confucian influence and ideals, resulting in purer, less pretentious forms lacking artifice and complexity.
Overview: The Joseon Dynasty
During Korea’s Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910, often referred to as “Choson”), ceramic wares were considered to represent the highest quality of achievement from imperial, city, and provincial kilns, the last of which were export-driven wares. This era marked the golden age of Korean pottery, with a long period of growth in imperial and provincial kilns and much work of the highest quality still preserved today. Generally, the ceramics of this dynasty are divided into the early period (roughly 1300–1500), middle period (1500–1700), and late period (1700–1910).
In the early period, wares were evolved alongside Chinese lines in terms of color, shape, and technique. Celadon, white porcelain, and storage pottery were similar but with slight variations in glazes, incision designs, florality, and weight. The influence of the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in blue and white wares using cobalt blue glazes could be seen in Joseon pottery, but Joseon work tended to lack the phthalo blue range and the three-dimensional glassine color depth of Ming Dynasty Chinese works. Ceramics from the Joseon period differed from other periods because artists felt that each piece of art deserved its own uniquely cultivated personality.
Simplified designs emerged early on during the Joseon Dynasty. Buddhist designs such as lotus flowers and willow trees prevailed in celadon wares. The form most often seen was that of pear-shaped bottles also notable were thinner glazes and colorless glazes for buncheong or stoneware.
Joseon Dynasty pottery, Korea. Dongguk University Museum, Seoul: This blue and white porcelain jar with pine and bamboo designs was made in 1489 during the early Joseon Dynasty.
The middle period was marked by the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, during which entire villages of Korean potters were forcibly relocated to Japan. This had a permanent effect on the pottery industry in Korea, as craftsmen had to relearn techniques after the masters were gone. This era also saw the prolonged fall of the Chinese Ming Dynasty in 1644, after which immigration of some Chinese master potters occurred in southern coastal Korea. Qing coloring, brighter and almost Scythian in enamel imitation, was rejected by Korean potters in favor of simpler, less decorated wares in keeping with a new dynasty that built itself on military tradition.
Joseon white porcelain vase: White porcelains were preferred and praised more than any other porcelains during the Joseon period.
The late period was characterized by the establishment of government-subsidized kilns at Bunwon-ri, Gwangju near Seoul in 1751, as well as the privatization of Bunwon in 1884. Joseon white porcelains became especially popular during this time and are characterized by unpretentious forms, understated decoration, and subtle use of color, reflecting the ideals of the Korean Confucian state. Over time, the wares began to assume more traditional Korean glazes and more specific designs to meet regional needs. The rise of white porcelain occurred as a result of Confucian influence and ideals, resulting in purer, less pretentious forms lacking artifice and complexity.
White porcelain jar, 18th century, Korea: The rise of white porcelain occurred as a result of Confucian influence and ideals, resulting in purer, less pretentious forms lacking artifice and complexity.
Korean Pottery and Ceramics - History
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A History of Asian Pottery and Ceramics
The pottery of China
The Chinese started making pottery about 3,500 BCE. Besides being used for everyday objects, pottery was an important part of funeral rites, with ceramic objects buried along with their owners. Eventually these objects were formed into the likenesses of people, to be buried with rulers in place of their still-living counterparts.
The Chinese started using glazes about 300 BCE. By the time of the Tang dynasty, which began in 618 CE, there were many different colors of glazes being used. The Tang dynasty also saw the development of the first true porcelain. During the two dynasties that followed, the Sung and the Yuan, the making of porcelain became an art form.
The Ming dynasty, founded in 1368, brought a welcome peace to a land that had been torn apart by war (principally with the Mongols). The pottery of this time is more sophisticated and uses many different techniques, including a red glaze that had not been available before. But the most notable objects are probably those in plain blue and white, adorned with images of plants and flowers.
The Ming dynasty endured for almost 300 years. It was followed by the Ch’ing dynasty, which saw a trend toward more simple designs. But there was also a drive toward perfection, so that it occasionally took several people to make just one item.
The pottery of Korea
Korean pottery also dates back to ancient times. As in China, it was used in funeral ceremonies, with the objects buried along with the deceased. This custom changed in the eighth century when Buddhism became the main religion vessels that were previously buried were not used to hold ashes.
Korean pottery was frequently based on Chinese designs, particularly during the Sung dynasty. However, Korean potters developed some of their own techniques, including mishima, the use of colored clays for inlay work.
The pottery of Japan
Japanese pottery developed about 2,000 BCE-slightly later than that of the Chinese. Besides making everyday objects, the Japanese made figures of soldiers and horses, some of them life-sized, and in such large quantities that they must have had a streamlined way of making them.
Some Japanese pottery designs were based on those of the Koreans and Chinese, but they also developed their own styles. A big influence was the Japanese tea ceremony of Zen Buddhism, which created a need for specialized types of pottery with very simple designs. The Japanese also invented the technique of raku, which involves firing at relatively low temperatures and removal of the object from the kiln while it’s still red-hot.
Pottery techniques and designs always tend to reflect the cultures in which they develop. This is particularly true of the pottery of Asia. It may have evolved relatively isolated from the rest of the world, but its sophistication is very much a product of the cultures that produced it.
The History of Korean Pottery
The Koreans have used potteries from 7000 to 8000 years ago. Since ancient times they used to make pottery by firing clay at a heat of 1300 degree Celsius. They produced unique, original and beautiful pottery. They traded extensively with China and adopted manufacturing skills of Celadon.
Korean pottery is healthy and alive due to its good natural disposition. The Korean potters believed in nature and sought to be a part of it. So they lived in deep recesses of mountains to give a natural touch to their wares and used simple colors with liberal techniques for molding the clay prior to making the pottery.
Korean pottery can be studied in terms of three empires. These three empires which present the foundation of Korean ceramic history also reflect the culture of pottery during this era. These three kingdoms are - Silla, Goguryeo and Joseon. The Korean potters produced coarse household goods as well as highly sophisticated statues of imperial figures, guardians, horses, escorts of the dead in mausoleum of kings, as well as nobility.
1. Korean pottery in the Silla era (668 to 935) - the pottery was plain in color, design and silhouette at the time of the unified Silla era. Celadon was the main produce. Gradually in the 14th century Bakeja porcelain wares developed which had vibrant varnish. These were made up of highly refined clay. Bakeja wares were fixed with feldspar and were very cautiously fired in very huge and fresh kilns. Bakeja wares flourished tremendously until the Joseon dynasty came to power.
2. Korean pottery in the Goguryeo era (918 to 1392) - during this epoch some of the best small scale works of ceramics were accomplished in Korea. In this age the potters made foliate designs, key fret, geometric shapes, elliptical panels, stylized fishes and insects, and they started using incised designs from this era. The glazes used, were different shades of Celadon. For stoneware and storage goods they used black and brown glazes.
3. Korean pottery in Joseon dynasty (1392 to 1910) - it can be called the golden era of Korean pottery. The Korean ceramics developed to a great extent and pottery was produced in a large commercial scale for export. The quality of the pottery also improved considerably. They followed the Chinese Ming Dynasty in evolving their improved range of pottery and they are similar in certain aspects to the Chinese wares. Storage pottery, celadon, white porcelain were alike and only with minimal variations either in glazes, designs or weight. Ming influence was also felt in the blue and white matter by using cobalt blue glazes.
After the fall of the Ming dynasty many Chinese potters migrated to Korea and brought colorful and vibrant pottery of special forms which was discarded by the Korean potters who preferred to make simple and less bedecked wares.
Korea exported most of its potteries to Japan and principally from the Busan area. The climbing kilns were exported to a considerable extent.
There were two ways of export- through deal and intended immigration of potters or by the means of invasion and pottery theft.
Export porcelain [ editar | editar código ]
Nearly all exports of Korean ceramics went to Japan, and most were from provincial coastal kilns, especially in the Busan area. Export occurred in two ways: either through trading and the voluntary immigration of potters, or through outright invasion and theft of pottery and the forced relocation to Japan of families of potters who made the wares. The method of sending paper models of ceramics to Japan, having them approved and then having them manufactured began in the late 17th century, most often for the masters of Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Korean Pottery and Ceramics - History
Peoples speaking languages that were ancestors of modern Korea came from North Asia in prehistoric times. Originally they made their living by hunting and collecting wild animals and plants. Many already lived in small villages and made pottery. About 5500 years ago, groups of the food collecting people began to cultivate millet, then various kinds of beans including soy. As early as 2700 b.c., rice began to appear in the southern parts of Korea. It was the first of many things borrowed from the developing civilization of neighboring China. By 1500 bronze making techniques were imported from China followed by iron about 1000 years later. Developed agriculture and good metal tools produced more food and farmer populations grew steadily. By about 400 b.c. Korean farmers migrated across the Sea of Japan (called the Eastern Sea by Koreans) to southern Japan. This was the beginning of farming villages in Japan and much of the modern Japanese population is descended from these immigrants. The Japanese and Korean people are really close cousins.
Several rich Korean kingdoms grew up in the first two millennia a.d. Shilla (668-935) occupied what is now South Korea. Its kings established Buddhism as the official state religion, but Confucian scholars and ideas also entered Korea. Near the southeastern city of Kyongju stand huge artificial mounds. They are the burial places for the members of the Shilla royal dynasty and they are loaded with gold and gems, especially jade.
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The Korean kingdoms were influenced by Chinese trade goods and culture. Korean writing systems (4th century a.d.), architecture, political systems, religions, and even musical instruments came from China. Koreans adapted these Chinese things and made them their own. Chinese scholars had devised a kind of printing system using carved wooden blocks. Koreans took this invention one step further and created the first world's first metal moveable type in the 12th century. Adaptation of foreign things for their own use is a historical characteristic of Korean culture, even today.
One good example of how foreign things and ideas become "Koreanized" is pottery making. About a thousand years ago Korean potters learned how to make a special kind of fine, blue-green glazed pottery called celadon. Korean artisans adopted the technique and it became one of Korea's great cultural emblems. Even Chinese visitors remarked on how beautiful Korean celadon was. For 600 years a village near Seoul called Ich'on, has been home of Korea's greatest potters and it is here that the great celadon techniques have been revived. Today, it is still prized and sold all over the world.
Celadon happens to be one of the many forms of art and culture that Korea passed on to Japan. Another is writing. The Japanese writing system derives from China, as does paper making, block printing, art styles and much more.
Yet Japan has not always been friendly to its cousin to the west. By the 20th Century Japan had become an industrial power. Early in the century they conquered Korea and imposed Japanese culture and language upon it. Koreans struggled to maintain their language and cultural identity. Only with Japan's defeat in World War II (Independence Day, August 15, 1945) was this yoke removed from Korea's shoulders. By that time many Koreans had become "westernized," and looked forward to industrialization, but yet another conflict intervened.
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After World War II the victorious Allies temporarily divided Korea along the 38th parallel between north and south. North Korea soon became a Communist state under the influence of the Soviet Union. South Korea declared themselves a republic in 1948 and became allies of the United States. After two years of military confrontation along the border, North Korean troops suddenly attacked the south in June, 1950. Almost defeated, the South Korean government called upon the United Nations to help. Many countries, led by the United States, sent troops. The Allied armies drove the North Koreans back but fearing an attack upon themselves, the People's Republic of China sent huge numbers of troops to aid North Korea. By early 1951 the war was stalemated along the old border. Armistice negotiations began, but took two years to complete. In the meantime battles raged and many lives were lost. Fifty thousand Americans died in the war, as did millions of Koreans on both sides. South Korea was devastated, its industries and agriculture ruined. Yet, out of the ashes South Koreans built a strong industrial state with a high standard of living. By the 1990s, along with economic development South Koreans also built a fully democratic western-style government. And, President Kim Dae Jung won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his work in building peaceful relations with North Korea. These remarkable transformations shows Koreans' willingness to adapt outside ideas and to make them part of their culture.
Free and Wild: Namhi Kim Wagner Revitalizes Korean Ceramic Tradition
At 93, Namhi Kim Wagner is still redefining the ancient art of Korean pottery. With works featured in the Museum of Fine Arts, she is one of the first American ceramicists to revive the Buncheong style of ceramics—an aesthetic that disappeared from Korean ceramic tradition at the close of the 16th century. Gallery 224, a Harvard-affiliated art exhibition center, will host a selection of her works works from March 23 to May 21.
Not simply a revitalization of Buncheong wares, Wagner’s exploration into the rich history of Korean ceramics attempts to use history as a starting point for her original expression of art. “To transcend copying, she uses some materials other than just traditional materials. She adds color. She adds a certain dynamism that isn’t there,” says Robert Mowry, former head of the Harvard Department of Asian Art and senior curator at the Harvard Art Museums. “It’s within the tradition of Buncheong wares, but it’s her own contemporary interpretation of it—a technical and aesthetic relationship with it, [as well as] modern breakthroughs.”
Nancy Selvage, the former director of the Ceramics Program at Harvard, also emphasizes the distinctive characteristics of Wagner’s works. “She quickly went through the whole history of Korean ceramics—digested it—and then went beyond and made very personal, individual, expressive, new work. It’s a new contemporary contribution to Korean traditional work,” she says.
As part of a lecture series introducing Wagner’s works, Mowry elucidated the dramatic transitions that occurred throughout the history of Korean ceramics. According to him, the 15th and 16th century practice of Buncheong is critically important for an overall understanding of Korean pottery. Later Korean works, celadons and porcelains, find themselves heavily influenced by Chinese aesthetics and techniques. However, Buncheong wares encompass a separate visual landscape from Chinese wares, and are often considered folk pottery, a ceramic tradition relatively uninfluenced by international pressures.
“The basic technique of Buncheong wares is taking a grey stoneware, [a clay body] adding a coating of white slip, [a clay and water mixture] which is manipulated for decorative effect,” Mowry says, “whether stamping it, putting white slip into stamped intaglio designs, coating with white slip and incising or carving inside or coating with white slip and painting on the surface with dark slip.” Each facet of these techniques has a historical root—each Korean historical process that Mowry explains contributes to the ultimate form that Buncheong works take and Wagner’s works complicate. Part of what makes Wagner’s work important, according to Mowry, is that it introduced American audiences to a ceramic style that is a representation of Korean aesthetic thought, in contrast to later Korean ceramic styles, that blur the lines between the region’s pottery and that of China.
According to Wagner, the freedom of working with a medium with great diversity in form and decoration has encouraged her personal expression. “I want to be free and wild,” she says at the exhibition opening on Saturday. Many of her pieces feature fish—a traditional motif in Buncheong works that represents affluence or abundance—but Wagner used them to whimsical rather than symbolic effects. “My fish don’t have names they’re just fish,” Wagner says.
According to Mowry, some of the most fascinating moments in her career take place when she subtly breaks from the Buncheong framework. “She imbues her wares with a distinctly personal touch that marks them as contemporary and that reveals her genius as a potter.” Mowry says.
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Evaluating Korean Celadon - Old and Modern
Praised by the 8-12th century Sung Chinese for its "kingfisher" blue-green color, lost as an art form after the Koryo Dynasty, and then rediscovered and collected aggressively by the Japanese, Korean celadon has never lost its inherent value, beauty, or appeal. While the most valuable celadon is generally the older, Koryo Dynasty celadon, modern celadon is often better made, and frequently has a great value all its own.
The golden age of celadon in Korea was during the middle and latter part of the 11th century when the influence of Buddhism increased the need for fine vessels to be used during religious ceremonies and more celadon was produced to meet the need. By 1231 AD the influence of Buddhism and the flourishing culture began to decline, and along with it, the quality of the pottery being produced. By the beginning of the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910) most of the delicate manufacturing techniques for celadon had been lost. There was a re-birth of celadon in the 1950s when a group of Korean artisans set out to discover the lost art of Koryo celadon. Since that time, they have made great progress in rediscovering the secret techniques and much of the celadon made today is of better quality than that of the Koryo Dynsasty. Learn more about the History of Korean Celadon here.
The value of older celadon (pre-1950) is based primarily on its age, uniqueness, skill used in making it, and its level of preservation. More modern celadon - that which was made after the re-birth - it primarily valued by its beauty, uniqueness, and the fame of the artisan who made it. Preservation is generally not an issue since most modern celadon is in good condition.
In most cases, old celadon is easy to distinguish from modern celadon even by casual observance. The majority of Koryo era celadon was recovered from tombs in the early 1900's where it had been buried for hundred's of years, and so it tends to appear as if. well, as if it had been buried in the ground for hundreds of years. That is, the color is often faded from its original vibrancy, the glaze is often pockmarked from water damage, and it frequently has some physical damage to it - either repaired or not. Additionally, the pieces that have made it down through time to the present, are not necessarily the best or most beautiful of their era, but are more of a hodgepodge of pieces, many of which were good enough for burial, but not much more. Those pieces that were exceptional, have mostly made their way into museums. Therefore, a good deal of the old celadon today, is less than spectacular and often appears malformed, damaged, or severely weather-beaten.
Another telling mark of a piece's age, is its base. Kilns used during the Koryo Dynasty were made of earth and generally had sand or earthen floors. The pots were placed on the bare floors and so tended to pick up residue from the floor or have their bases deformed by contact with the floor. In order to keep the piece off the floor of the kiln, potters would place three small pieces of sand, pebbles, or shells under the piece to prop it up off the floor. After the firing, the pieces of sand were broken off but left telltale marks on the bottom of the piece called "spur marks". Modern celadon is made in neat, sterile kilns and has no spur marks.
Modern celadon nearly always has the mark of the artisan who created it written in Chinese characters, but old celadon mostly did not, or if it did, the mark is so faded as to be unrecognizable. Glazed bottoms, which are common on all modern celadon, were sometimes not used on older celadon due to the difficulty in keeping the base debris free.
Damaged celadon dish with inlaid floral decoration, even so, it is displayed in the National Museum of Korea. 12th century, Koryo Dynasty
Plain celadon bowl, with spur marks on the base. 11th - 12th century, Koryo Dynasty
Modern celadon Mae-byeong (vase), with perfect, glazed base, and the artist's mark, written in Chinese characters - the red mark is a personal stamp used by some artisans which is the equivalent of a signature
The value of old celadon can range from $500 for a poorly preserved, deformed bowl, with damage, to priceless for a perfect specimen such as many of those in the National Museum of Korea. For the most part, all old celadon is quite valuable and even pieces that are incomplete due to damage, generally have value. Determining the exact value is where things get difficult. As mentioned above, the general guidelines for determining a piece's value are age, uniqueness, skill used in making it, and its level of preservation. As with most antiques, the age of a piece has a great influence, as the older a piece is, generally the more valuable it is. This is usually true for celadon as well, however there are some exceptions to consider. Items from the golden age of celadon tend to be more valuable than those that were produced earlier or later, because of the excellent craftsmanship employed in works of that era. However, works from an earlier or later period that belie the craftsmanship of their era could be equally, or more valuable. For example, a shard of white porcelain with inlay from a period in which it was thought that inlay was not used, may be more valuable than a complete - but more common piece from another time.
The criteria above also ties in with its uniqueness. While bowls, Ju byeong or mae byeong [link] may be quite common, a more unique piece, or one of a kind piece, would have a much greater value.
White porcelain shards with inlaid decoration, from the 12th or 13th century - inlaid white porcelain is quite rare.
Unique celadon water dropper in the form of a duck 12th century
The level of preservation of a piece is likewise important and in general, the less color fading or other damage to the celadon glaze, the more valuable the piece will be. The same holds true for exterior physical damage, like missing handles and such - the more complete, the better. In summation, a common piece of which a great number were made, with some fading of the glaze, and pockmarked from water damage with a few chips out of it, may fetch little more than a few hundred dollars. But a well preserved piece with good color, no damage and of a nice design may be worth $30,000 or more, such as a small celadon cosmetic box (hyang-hap) which was recently evaluated on a Korean antique show.
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Modern celadon (that which has been made since the re-birth of celadon in the 1950's) varies in appearance depending on when it was made. The skill of celadon artisans has increased over the years, so it follows that the earlier works would generally have a less vibrant or uniform color of glaze, less symmetry in their shapes, and less detail in the inlaid designs. Pieces made more recently all have a mostly symmetrical shape, uniform color and and fairly well detailed inlay. Most modern celadon also has a glazed base, with the name of the artisan who created the piece written in Chinese characters.
The difference between modern celadon of high quality, and that of lesser quality can be seen in the detail of the inlay or painting, and the uniformity and color of the glaze. Upon close inspection, the inlaid and painted portions of a lower quality piece will appear somewhat blurred and indistinct, while those of better quality will be clear in detail and form. The depth and color of the glaze are another telling feature. The deep jade-green glaze of quality works has a rich color, and clarity that far surpasses that of lesser works.
As with old celadon, determining the value is where things get tricky. As previously mentioned, there are three factors, that contribute to a modern piece's value: beauty, uniqueness, and the fame of the artisan who made it. The more beautiful a piece is, to include the level its craftsmanship, uniform color of glaze, and detail in the designs, the higher its value will be. A more detailed work also takes more time to create, and so there are likely fewer copies of that piece, which further adds to its value. Therefore, uniqueness, generally accompanies quality. Artisans of some renown, make better quality pieces, which take more time, and therefore, they create fewer of them, so they end up being more unique.
We receive numerous letters inquiring about the value of celadon acquired years ago, either during the war, or the decades following it. The following guidelines are generally true about pottery acquired since the war. Celadon pieces that were acquired during the Korean war or shortly after, are likely to have some increased value over its intrinsic value, since there was virtually no celadon production during the war and those pieces that were available, were probably from an earlier age. Works that were acquired in the 60's through 70's were either from the budding celadon industry of the time, or were earlier works. That determination can be made by the way that the piece was acquired. A piece that came from a shop in Seoul, with dozens of other similar pieces and was purchased for a low price, was probably produced by one of the pottery shops of the time and may or may not have increased value. A work that was purchased from a specialty shop, that looked like an antique at the time of purchase, was unusually expensive or unique looking, may have been one of the many antiques that were sold during that era for financial gain. It should be remembered that Korea did not become the economic powerhouse that it is today, until the mid 80's and in the years after the war, life was difficult. Many people had to sell priceless family heirlooms simply to survive. Works purchased in the 80's to present, are most likely from the modern celadon industry and their value can be determined by the other factors mentioned above - beauty, uniqueness, and fame of the maker.
It should be noted that the above guidelines are designed to serve only as a guide. Please do not base an evaluation of a piece of celadon on the guidelines above. If you feel a piece is monetarily valuable, it may very well be. Do not dismiss a work based on our very broad guidelines. Ultimately, the monetary value doesn't really matter. As with all art, if the piece is beautiful, and you enjoy it, then it could not possibly have a greater value than that.
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In order to help differentiate between old and modern pieces, we have compiled some pictures of comparable celadon pieces from the Koryo Dynasty, and modern pieces below.