Celadon Ewer, Goryeo Dynasty

Celadon Ewer, Goryeo Dynasty

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The Goryeo Dynasty (718-1392) saw many magnificent achievements in arts and culture, perhaps epitomized by Goryeo celadon, which flourished during the era. After China, Goryeo was the second country in the world to produce celadon. But beyond merely following the style of Chinese celadon, Goryeo celadon developed its own unique aesthetics, with colors, decorative techniques, patterns, and shapes that were quite distinct from those of Chinese celadon. In particular, the true artistry and elegance of Goryeo celadon can be seen in sanghyeong celadon vessels, which are sculpted in the forms of people, animals, or plants. Coated in luminous jade-colored glaze, these charming and resplendent treasures combine the beauty of artworks for appreciation with the function and practicality of household implements.

In the early Goryeo period, most celadon objects were ordinary vessels used to serve or store food and drink, such as teabowls and dishes. But with the increase in both quality and demand, Goryeo celadon culture rapidly changed and expanded. By the mid-Goryeo period, celadon objects had become much more diverse in terms of their types, shapes, decorative techniques, and motifs. Moreover, this period also saw the development of the distinctive jade-colored glaze that is now characteristic of the peak period of Goryeo celadon. In addition to household vessels, celadon was used to produce an array of different objects, including ritual implements (e.g., incense burners), stationery items (e.g., water-droppers and inkstones), furniture (e.g., chairs), and building materials (e.g., bricks and roof tiles). Among these items, sanghyeong celadon vessels shaped like people, animals, or plants, were widely produced.

Celadon Dragon-shaped Ewer (National Treasure 61)

Celadon Dragon-shaped Ewer, Goryeo (12th century), Height: 24.3cm, National Treasure 61

As one of the representative sanghyeong celadon vessels, this dragon-shaped ewer features a unique shape, meticulous details, and gorgeous glaze color. Above all, it showcases the creativity and technological advancement of the Goryeo people, who elaborately visualized a mythical creature with the head of a dragon and the body of a fish. The entire vessel is shaped like the creature, highlighted by the protruding dragon head, with its wide eyes staring gallantly ahead and its open mouth serving as the ewer&rsquos spout. The frills and fins are dynamically spread around the curled body, while the tail points straight up to the sky. A lotus stem hangs down over the head, where two dots of iron-brown pigment represent the eyes, instilling the piece with a lifelike sense of vitality. The sharp fangs are painted with white slip, creating an impressive contrast against the glaze. The round body, which is incised with a regular pattern of semi-circles to represent the scales, conveys a nice sense of tension. The natural accumulation of glaze in the open areas of the design results in areas of deeper color, adding to the overall sense of mystery. The base is densely decorated with lotus petals, recalling the lotus pedestals that often support dragons in Buddhist sculptures. Attached to the back of the body is a twisted lotus stem that serves as the ewer&rsquos handle, showing that the ceramist emphasized the overall décor of the ewer over practicality.

Produced in the mid-Goryeo period, this ewer causes us to imagine the mythical dragon-fish creature dramatically leaping out of the water, with a U-shaped body and raised tail fin. This motif of a leaping dragon-fish is believed to have been popularized during China&rsquos Liao Dynasty (916-1125). In fact, this ewer resembles a Liao carp-shaped ewer with tri-colored glaze (Zhongjing Museum in Ningcheng County), along with various other ewers excavated from Inner Mongolia. As such, this ewer provides compelling evidence of the cultural exchange that was conducted between Goryeo and Liao. The influence of Liao aesthetics on Goryeo crafts can be attributed to the import of Liao crafts via trade, which began by at least the late eleventh century. Also, records show that, during the reign of King Hyeonjong (顯宗, r. 1009-1031), Liao artisans began to settle in Goryeo, where they helped to produce metal wares and fabrics.

Celadon Turtle-shaped Ewer (National Treasure 96)

Another representative example of a sanghyeong celadon vessel is this turtle-shaped ewer sitting on a lotus pedestal. The head resembles a dragon, with a large pointed nose and a backwards horn on the top. The head is slightly raised with an open mouth, as if the creature is belting out a magnificent roar. The eyes are represented by two dots of iron-brown pigment, adding a touch of realism to the mythical creature. Enhancing the realistic depiction, the fangs, other teeth, and tongue are fully expressed inside the mouth. The creature has the body of a turtle, with a hexagonal turtle-shell motif incised on the shell. Incised within each hexagon is the Chinese character &ldquowang&rdquo (王), which means &ldquoking.&rdquo There is a hole on the top of the shell, encircled by a lotus leaf decoration, and four large feet below the shell, complete with sharp claws. Overall, the creature is rendered in astonishing detail, down to the tiny scales and wrinkles on its feet, showcasing the adroit skills of the Goryeo celadon craftspeople.

Celadon Turtle-shaped Ewer, Goryeo (12th century), Height 17.3cm, National Treasure 96

Like the dragon-shaped ewer, the turtle sits atop a lotus pedestal and has a handle shaped like a twisted lotus stem attached to the back. Notably, the motif of a turtle perched on a lotus pedestal is commonly seen in steles from the Goryeo period. This motif can be interpreted in the context of Buddhism, which had a strong influence on the development of Goryeo celadon. In particular, the dragon-turtle on a lotus pedestal is interpreted as a symbol of rebirth from a lotus (蓮花化生), while the &ldquo王&rdquo character (&ldquoking&rdquo) that appears within each hexagon represents the belief that the Goryeo king was the manifestation of Buddha (王卽佛). Overall, motifs of mythical creatures&mdashincluding dragons, dragon-fish, dragon-turtles, and &ldquonine-dragons&rdquo&mdashexpress the divinity and authority of the royal court as a supernatural and sacred entity.

Sanghyeong Celadon and Jade-colored Glaze

The twelfth and thirteenth century are typically considered to be the golden age of Goryeo celadon production. Not coincidentally, this period is also characterized by the wide production of sanghyeong celadon vessels, which were sculpted to resemble people, animals, and plants. These alluring vessels can be roughly divided into two categories: the natural and the religious. The natural motifs generally consist of animals and plants that were familiar from daily life in Goryeo. For example, many bottles, ewers, water-droppers, and incense burners were shaped like mandarin ducks, ducks, chamoe (Korean melons), bamboo shoots, and gourds.

On the other hand, the religious motifs are primarily related to Buddhism, Goryeo&rsquos state religion. Examples include celadon sculptures of Buddha, bodhisattvas, and arhats, along with vessels decorated with sculptural renderings of lotus flowers and plants. In particular, lotus petals were a favored motif on ritual implements (such as incense burners), as well as on household items, such as bowls and plates, which often used widely flared mouths to convey the full bloom of the lotus.

Although not as ingrained as Buddhism, Taoism still had considerable influence in the Goryeo royal court, particularly during the reign of King Yejong (睿宗, r. 1105-1122), as documented in the &ldquoMiscellaneous Rites&rdquo section (雜祀條) from the &ldquoRituals&rdquo chapter (禮志) in History of Goryeo (高麗史). Reflecting this background, sanghyeong celadon vessels with Taoist motifs were also produced, including an ewer shaped like a Taoist immortal holding a peach, and incense burners and water-droppers shaped like peaches, monkeys, qilin, and phoenix.

Goryeo sanghyeong celadon vessels typically highlight the characteristic features of their respective forms, such that they can actually convey a stronger impression than the natural items themselves. Significantly, these vessels were sculpted entirely by hand, distinguishing them from similar Chinese ceramic vessels, which were usually shaped with a mold. Thus, as compared to their Chinese counterparts, Goryeo sanghyeong vessels tend to be more vibrant and realistic, with more elaborate details that are accentuated by the translucent jade-colored glaze. These vessels represent the absolute pinnacle of Goryeo celadon, when the color of the glaze and the unique shape of the vessel were the two points of emphasis. From this point forward, the aesthetic style shifted to focus on more conspicuous decorations, such as inlay and iron-brown underglaze.


Historian Wang Zhongshu states that shards with a celadon ceramic glaze have been recovered from Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD) tomb excavations in Zhejiang he also states that this type of ceramic became well known during the Three Kingdoms (220–265). Α] Richard Dewar disagrees with Wang's classification, stating that true celadon—which requires a minimum 1260°C (2300°F) furnace temperature, a preferred range of 1285° to 1305°C (2345° to 2381°F), and reduced firing—was not created until the beginning of the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127). Β] The unique grey or green celadon glaze is a result of iron oxide's transformation from ferric to ferrous iron (Fe2O3 → FeO) during the firing process. Β] Longquan celadon wares, which Nigel Wood (1999) writes were first made during the Northern Song, had bluish, blue-green, and olive green glazes and high silica and alkali contents which resembled later porcelain wares made at Jingdezhen and Dehua rather than stonewares. Γ]

Explore National Museum of Korea

Музей: National Museum of Korea

The National Museum of Korea is the most representative and extensive museum in Republic of Korea. The museum holds an immense collection: it has more than 410,000 historically valuable and highly aesthetic relics ranging from the Paleolithic Age to the early 20th century, and more than 12,000 masterpieces of its collection are always on display in its permanent exhibition hall. The museum has six galleries: Prehistory and Ancient History, Medieval and Early Modern History, Donated works, Calligraphy and Painting, World Art, and Sculpture and Crafts Galleries. Visitors can appreciate its vast collection numerous national treasures of Korea are exhibited including Pensive Bodhisattva (a Korean National Treasure), Goryeo Celadon Openwork Burner, Ten-Story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple Site, and Gold Crown from Silla.

The National Museum of Korea was established in 1945. In 2005, the museum extended and reopened on a site of 307,227㎡ (building area: 45,438㎡) in Yongsan, Seoul. Since its rebirth as a “cultural complex,” the National Museum of Korea not only to preserves and exhibits precious relics, but also provides various educational programs and cultural events.

This pensive Bodhisattva is a statue of Bodhisattva who is in meditation with right leg crossed over his left knee and his finger touching his cheek. The posture originated from the image of Prince Sakyamuni (Siddhartha) who is deep in meditation thinking about life of human beings.

"Pensive Bodhisattva" (Three Kingdoms Period, Early 7th century), автор – UnknownNational Museum of Korea

The Pensive Bodhisattva is Korea’s National Treasure No. 83. It is about 1 meter tall. The figure has a small tri-fold crown on its head - it is called “Samsankwan” (meaning “Three Mountain Crown”) as it looks like three mountain peaks, or “Yeonhwakwan” (meaning “Lotus Crown”) as it also looks like a lotus flower. The bare-chested upper body, which is not wearing anything except for a round-shaped necklace, adds to the simplicity of the statue. The lower part, covered with a skirt that has many folds, delivers a sense of dynamism. The statue, well known for its elaborately carved details, is regarded as one of the most representative Buddhist statues in Korea.

The Buddhist Sculpture Room is designed to allow people to enjoy the beauty of Korean Buddhist sculpture and learn about its characteristics. It provides a whole picture of the history of Korean Buddhist sculpture from the Three Kingdoms period to the Joseon Dynasty and gives information on characteristics of each type of sculpture. At the entrance, you can see large stone statues and iron statues of Buddha that were produced in Unified Silla and the Goryeo dynasty.

"Maitreya Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha from Gamsansa Site" (Unified Silla, 719), автор – UnknownNational Museum of Korea

This is Stone Standing Amitabha Buddha from Gamsansa Temple Site. This piece of art is Korea’s National Treasure No.82, and was crafted around the 8th century. It was originally in Gamsansa Temple in Gyeongju, a capital of the Unified Silla dynasty and in 1915, it found a new home here. Has anyone heard of “Amitabha Buddha”? Amitabha Buddha means the Buddha who reigns over Sukhavati, the Buddhist concept of heaven reserved for people who lived up to Buddhist principles. This Buddha has short and tight ringlet curls like turban shells and a big and flat lump on the top of the head, which is a typical feature of a Buddha statue. His large face has a look of solemnity and a message on the back panel of the statute reads that a high-ranking official named Kim Ji-seong built Gamsansa Temple and the Buddhist statues as a tribute to his parents in 719.

This is Seated Iron Buddha.The Buddha statue is Korea’s Treasure No. 332 estimatedly crafted around the 10th century of Goryeo. It was relocated from a temple site in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province.This statue is one of Korea’s largest iron-made Buddha statues at a height of 2.88 meters and a weight of 6.2 tons. This has typical features in Buddhist statues made during the dynastic transition from the Unified Silla dynasty to the Goryeo dynasty. It has a round-shape face, peaked eyes, a sharp nose, clamped small lips, and an extremely slim waist.

This is Stone Standing Maitreya Bodhisattva from Gamsansa Temple Site. This statute, produced in the 8th century during the Unified Silla dynasty, is designated as Korea’s National Treasure No. 81. In 1915, it was moved from the Gamsansa Temple site to the museum along with Amitabha. Maitreya is regarded as a future Buddha of this world. He is destined to become Buddha long after entering nirvana and come to save the world. The figure is wearing a high crown on its head, and the round face has smiling eyes and mouth. There are three distinct wrinkles on the neck, and the body is decorated with necklaces, bracelets, and beads. A message on the back panel reads that a high-ranking official named Kim Ji-seong made this statute as a tribute to his parents.

Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, blossomed one of the most splendid cultures of gold. When you see tombs of the ruling class of the Silla kingdom between the 5th and 6th centuries, you can observe the buried adorned with fancy accessories like gold or gold plated copper crowns, gold waist belts and gold earrings.

"Gold Crown" (Silla, 5th century), автор – UnknownNational Museum of Korea

This Gold Crown from Hwangnamdaechong Tumulus, which was excavated from the royal tomb, is Korea’s National Treasure No.191. The crown has three tree-like prongs with three branches and also has two antler-like prongs on the left and right side of the main band.These prongs have been interpreted by some scholars as trees connecting the sky and the land.This crown is particularly noted for its abundant use of jade and gold, with each piece of jade dangling via gold threads. The splendor of the crown well testifies to the power and authority of the Silla royalty.

The Gold Girdle from Hwangnamdaechong Tumulus , which was excavated from the royal tomb along along with the gold crown, is Korea’s National Treasure No. 192. The main belt is made of fabric and consists of 28 rectangular metal plates attached to the main belt of the girdle via hinges. The girdle holds a number of charms including comma-shaped jadeite beads, a fish, a whetstone, and a case of medicine. These ornaments show that the owner of the belt was a person of high social status.

In Celadon Gallery, you can see the evolution of the celadons produced under Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392) and appreciate the ultimate beauty of celadon masterpieces. Celadons are regarded as the classic wares of Korean porcelains. Excellence of Goryeo celadons was widely known overseas, in particular in China. And they are one of those artifacts of the Goryeo Dynasty that survived in numbers for the modern day people to witness. Celadons, which we regard as beautiful works of art now, actually had quite practical usage for the Goryeo people. They were crafted into various everyday wares such as pots, bottles, kettles, dishes, candlesticks, pillows, roof tiles and incense burners. For sure, the most common usage of celadons was for bowls to contain food, especially in the form of cups and glasses for water, alcohol and tea. Celadons are porcelains that are first coated with glaze and then fired at a temperature of about 1,300 degrees Celsius. To produce celadons required sophisticated technology and kilns that can get extremely hot. But then, the essence of Goryeo celadons lies in their unique pale green-blue color, which the then Chinese admired as “the best of its kind under the heaven.” Along with the jade color, the original inlay technique is another major characteristic of Goryeo celadons and it is regarded as one of the biggest achievements for the Korean art of pottery. Later, Goryeo celadons are succeeded by Joseon dynasty’s Buncheong Wares.

This is Bamboo sprout-shaped Ewer with Lid Celadon. Celadon that is made in the shape of an animal or a plant is called “sculptural celadon.” This ewer is a sculptural celadon as it was made in the shape of a budding bamboo sprout. The body is also decorated with the details of bamboo leaves, using techniques such as incising and carving in relief. Looking closely, you can see that the tips of the leaves is are slightly bending outward or upward. The spout and the handle are shaped like thin bamboo stalks. And the lid looks like a part of the bamboo sprout, which shows the wit of the craftsman who made this ewer. The entire surface is evenly coated with a jade-colored glaze, which makes this ewer all the more elegant and beautiful.

This is Incense Burner Celadon with openwork decoration. This incense burner is National Treasure No.95.

"Incense Burner, Celadon with Openwork Geometric Design" (Goryeo, 12th century), автор – UnknownNational Museum of Korea

This incense burner has three main parts: the openwork lid, which allowed smoke to flow through the lotus-covered body, where the incense was burned and the round base. The cover is an openwork globe, with designs wishing for good luck, long life and many offsprings. The body is elegantly ornamented with layers of lotus petals, while the base rests on the backs of three tiny rabbits. This incense burner displays an array of masterful decorative techniques, including incising, carving in relief, openwork, and inlay, and is thus revered as one of the finest Goryeo celadon works.

In the Metal Craft Gallery, you can see outstanding techniques and beauty of Korean metal craftworks. Metal craft means making objects using metals including gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin. Metals are stronger than other materials and glitter in the light. They also melt when you apply heat, so they can be easily made in many different shapes. Most well-known examples of metal craftworks include mirrors, which use metals that reflect the light, and bells, which use metals that make a ringing sound when they are hit. You can also incise any patterns and designs using a chisel and then fill the grooves with other metals to decorate them. Metal craft in Korea dates back to the 10th century BC, when objects such as bronze mirrors were produced to symbolize the power of the rulers. It blossomed during the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC–668 AD), when crowns, belts, and earrings were produced using gold and silver. During the periods of Later Silla (668–935) and Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), many Buddhist metalworks were produced including temple bells and reliquaries with the growth of Buddhism. Major examples of Buddhist metalworks are offering vessels, reliquaries, and Buddhist musical instruments that are used for Buddhist rituals. You can also enjoy high-quality metalworks that were used in everyday lives.

This Reliquary from the East Pagoda at Gameunsa Temple Site, produced during the period of Late Silla (668–935), is Korea’s Treasure No. 1,359. Gameunsa Temple was built by King Sinmun in 682, right after Silla unified the three kingdoms, to honor his father King Munmu. The reliquary was found on the 3rd floor of the east pagoda. It refers to a set of containers that had sarira, the relics of Buddha. Sarira was put inside a reliquary, which was then placed inside a pagoda. The inner container is shaped like a palatial building, and it is put inside the cubic outer container. The four sides of the outer container are embossed with images of the Four Heavenly Kings, who are thought to protect to the inner container. This demonstrates the outstanding metal craft techniques of that time.

This is Bronze Kundika (Ritual Ewer) with Silver Inlaid Landscape Design. This bronze kundika, made during the period of Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), is Korea’s National Treasure No. 92.

"Bronze Kundika(Ritual Ewer)" (Goryeo Dynasty, 12th century - 13th century), автор – UnknownNational Museum of Korea

A kundika refers to a vessel that contains clean water. It was originally one of the eight objects that a Buddhist monk should carry, and was placed before the Buddhist altar with clean water in it. This bronze kundika has an egg-shaped body and a round-shaped lid placed on top of a long neck. Above the lid is a thin tube that is used to pour water into and out of the vessel, and there is a spout on its shoulder. On its body, an idyllic waterside landscape is designed with a hill of reeds and willow as well as a fisherman rowing a boat. The ornamentation was done using the silver-inlaying technique, which refers to incising patterns into the surface and filling the grooved lines with silver.

This online exhibition is made with the Street View panorama images created in February, 2016.



The Art Institute’s collection of Korean art spans more than 2,000 years of artistic production and includes exquisite celadon ceramics, striking ink paintings, and contemporary works that carry the artistic heritage of Korea’s past into the present day.

Chaekgeori (책거리병풍), late 19th–early 20th century

This work is an example of the chaekgeori genre of paintings. Chaekgeori translates to “paintings of books and things,” and these works reflect the pursuit of knowledge and a wish to attain high office. The emergence and growing popularity of this genre coincided with the growth of the literati class and societal stability during the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Objects depicted in this chaekgeori include those used by scholars, such as books, inkstones, brushes, and rolls of paper, as well as peacock feathers, watermelons, peonies, and rocks, signifying wealth, abundance, and longevity. Although the royal family and the literati class were the major patrons of this genre, the subject also appealed to the middle class and appeared in folk paintings in the late Joseon period.

Among the finer celadons, or green-glazed stonewares, in the Art Institute’s collection, this Goryeo dynasty (918–1392) vase showcases the sanggam decorating technique. Time-consuming and complex, the sanggam process involves carving a motif, then filling it with white and/or red clay (which turns black after firing) before applying the final bluish-green glaze. This vase is decorated with two large oval-like frames containing a scene of children playing in a bamboo garden, and a motif of cranes flying through clouds, symbolizing a wish for fertility and longevity.

This vase has just been added to our Essentials Audio Tour, available on the Art Institute app for both Apple and Android devices. The entire tour is also now available in Korean.

There are a lot of celedons in our collection, but some are better than the others.

My name is Yeonsoo Chee, I’m an Associate Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago.

There’s kind of an even coloration, and also the thickness of the glaze is very even, so you don’t see that some parts are shinier than the others. The technique decorating this vase is called the “sanggam” technique. The most common techniques to decorate the ceramics were either to paint or incise designs. But the sanggam, actually, is more involved than any of these two techniques. The potter will carve out the space to create the design and then he will fill those negative spaces with white clay or white slip. Then, after it’s dried, he will carve out the next details that we see in black, and then he will fill that space with red clay this time. These white parts stay white and then the red parts turn into black. So, now we see two different colorations from the motifs.

Usually, the motifs in Asian art, they are not accidental—they all carry very specific meanings. Cranes represent longevity. When there are children, it means the wish for fertility and a lot of offspring. And bamboo is one of the four friends of the gentlemen—it is known as “Sagunja” in Korean and also it is very common in Chinese art, too. Bamboo represents the integrity and resilience because bamboo is evergreen, they don’t change. And then they are very hard to be broken. So, along with the plum, orchids, and chrysanthemum, these four represent the virtues that scholar gentlemen should have.

So I think those kinds of consistencies in terms of coloration and also the execution of the design—those things make this piece stand out among others.

Covered Oil Bottle with Flowering Lotus and Scrolling Leaves (청자 양각 모란 무늬 기름병), Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), 12th century

Cosmetic containers in celadon were widely used by ladies of the court and aristocratic households during the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392). Often beautifully adorned with floral motifs, these containers held face powder, blush, hair oil, or fragrance, and became prized possessions among elite women. This particular example features intricately carved peonies, a symbol of wealth and beauty. Compared to later oil bottles, which tend to have a flatter body, this bottle displays a more bulbous shape.

Bird Shaped Ewer with Crowned Rider Holding a Bowl (청자 오리 모양 주전자), Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), 12th century

One of the notable artistic accomplishments of the Goryeo period was the production of sculptural celadon ceramics, such as this ingenious duck-shaped vessel. The duck’s extended tail is swept upwards to form a handle, which supports a human figure holding a bowl that wine would have been poured into, and its beak is fashioned into a spout. The human figure wears a headdress and a flowing robe, indicating that he is a Daoist immortal and suggesting that this ewer was used for ritual or ceremonial purposes. With its carefully rendered details and beautifully translucent color, this vessel is both a technical tour de force and a playfully charming object for admiration and delight.

Bottle-Shaped Vase with Dragon Chasing Flaming Pearl (백자 청화 구름 용 무늬 병), Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), 18th/19th century

A dragon in pursuit of a chintamani, a wish-granting jewel, bounds across the surface of this blue-and-white porcelain vase, wrapping dynamically around its rounded base. Dragons, a symbol of authority and royalty, became associated with success and good fortune during the 18th century, and the motif was popular among Korea’s elite. The cobalt blue hue of the decorative elements of this vase further indicates the status of its owners—cobalt was imported to Korea from the Middle East and was reserved for use by the royal household and upper class. The bottle-like shape of this vessel was popular during the Joseon dynasty, and its material, glaze, and composition make it an exceptional example of such works from the period.

Park Seo-Bo spearheaded the Dansaekhwa (monochrome painting) movement and became a pivotal figure in the development of abstract art in Korea. Park’s Écriture series, a formative work in this movement, eschews literal meaning to elicit a state of mindfulness and openness through rows of words in cursive etched on a white surface. His unique body of work is emblematic of Dansaekhwa, but his influence and legacy as an art educator reach far beyond the movement, emerging from Korea’s traumatic history of colonialism, civil war, and military rule.

Orchids (석란도), Joseon dynasty (1392–1910)

Kim Eung-won (known as Soho), best known for his paintings of orchids, is believed to have studied under Prince Yi Ha-ung (1820–1898), a famed orchid and rock literati painter and the father of King Gojong (r.1863–1897). For this work, he chose a much more intimate composition than his usual large-scale screen works, and his deft rendering of orchids and rocks is reminiscent of Prince Yi’s signature style. The long, thin graceful leaves and slender flowers growing from the barren rocks convey the symbolic strength of the orchid. Orchids were a frequent subject among the literati circle throughout the Joseon dynasty, as they were a part of a group of plants known as the “Four Gentlemen”—orchids, plum, chrysanthemum, and bamboo, which symbolized tenacity, integrity, perseverance, and longevity.

Kundika bottle (청동 정병), Goryeo dynasty (918–1392)

A kundika, or jeongbyeong in Korean, is a Buddhist ritual vessel used to purify a sacred space or for other religious purposes. Originating from India, kundika were made both of metal or ceramic and have a unique shape with an elongated neck, as seen in this example. This kundika, made during the Goryeo dynasty, has a distinct patina from centuries of aging. Although vessels such as this one were necessary for rituals performed by Buddhist monks, they were also used by everyday households in Goryeo society according to Xuanhe Fengshi Gaoli Tujing, a report of a diplomatic mission to Goryeo written by Xu Jing (1091–1153) of the Northern Song dynasty in 1124.

Home > Culture > Korean Heritage

Name: Celadon Ewer in the Shape of a Human Figure
Period: Goryeo
Location: Yongsan District, central Seoul
Status: National Treasure No. 167

This ewer of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) takes the form of a Taoist priest in Korean full-dress attire holding a tray with peaches.

This ewer is a sanghyeong-style celadon pottery.

Sanghyeong refers to an extraordinarily shaped object.

This ewer, with a height of 28 centimeters (11 inches), has a hole in the hat of the Taoist priest for pouring water into the ewer, and another one on the front of a peach for pouring out water.

A handle is attached to the back of the priest with a small ring at the top.

The hat is decorated with bird-shaped ornaments.

There are many decorative white dots on the hat, neck band, breast-tie and on the peaches.

Light-green celadon glaze is thickly coated on the body of the ewer.

The ewer was discovered at an orchard on the outskirts of Daegu in 1971 and later designated as one of the National Treasures of Korea.

1 - Goryeo Celadon

THE KOREAN POET ParkJong Hwarhapsodized over the beauty of Goryeo celadon like many before him over the centuries. But behind the elusive jade hue of Goryeo celadon lies a remarkable tale of a protean system of intellectual property and technology transfer practiced almost a millennium ago a system thatpowered an entire industry and developed cutting-edge technology. The history of Goryeo celadon illuminates both the nature and the process of innovation long before the development of formal intellectual property rights for individuals, as well as the role of the state in the construction of these systems of innovation. It is not only a tale of intellectual property, politics, and fashion, but also an illustration of how cultural artifacts are used to enhance national prestige and to build national pride.

Although Goryeo celadon is now valued as national treasure in Korea, it had been forgotten for many centuries after the Kingdom of Goryeo fell in the late 14th century and celadon gave way to a new fashion for white porcelain of the Chosun dynasty. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that Goryeo celadon was rediscovered by the Japanese colonialists who avidly collected them even robbing graves to do so. The original celadon manufacturing know-how was long lost to history, and modern attempts to reproduce the subtle green hue never fully succeeded—spawning myths that there was some arcane trade secret in its manufacturing process and glazing technique, a technique that was supposed to have been closely guarded and passed among only a handful of masters. In this way, celadon became a source of national pride, symbolizing Korea's long history that harked back to a time when its scientific and cultural development was far superior to any of its neighbors.

The term “celadon” denotes both the jade green glaze used on ceramic ware and any porcelain made with such glaze.

Koryŏ dynasty

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Koryŏ dynasty, in Korean history, dynasty that ruled the Korean peninsula as the Koryŏ kingdom from 935 to 1392 ce . During this period the country began to form its own cultural tradition distinct from the rest of East Asia. It is from the name Koryŏ that the Western name Korea is derived.

The dynasty that ruled Koryŏ was formed by Gen. Wang Kŏn, who in 918 overthrew the state of Later Koguryŏ, established in north-central Korea by the monk Kungye. Changing the name of the state to Koryŏ, Wang Kŏn established his capital at Songdo (present-day Kaesŏng, N.Kor.). With the surrender of the kingdoms of Silla (in 935) and Later Paekche (in 936) he established a unified kingdom on the peninsula.

A centralized bureaucratic system was established during the reign (981–997) of King Sŏngjong to replace the old aristocratic tribal system that had governed the country. Education and civil service examinations were used as a means of selecting the most capable officials and of absorbing the provincial magnates into the central government to consolidate its control over the countryside.

Confucianism exerted a strong influence on political life, but Buddhism was no less influential and widespread. The Tripitaka Koreana, one of the most complete editions of the Buddhist canon, was published in the first part of the Koryŏ period. The generally extravagant life of the aristocracy led to the flowering of art—particularly ceramics, such as the renowned Koryŏ celadon. Koryŏ visual art emphasizes decorative effect rather than mass. Its inclination toward elegance and technical perfection is sometimes attributed to the influence of Song China, but Koryŏ art’s contours are gentler.

Koryŏ generally enjoyed good relations with China and adopted its culture and political system. But Koryŏ often clashed with the peoples on the northern frontier. Despite the practical need for national defense, military officials were generally poorly treated, and this eventually led to a coup d’état, in 1170. Amid the subsequent disorder, one of the generals, Ch’oe Ch’ung-hŏn, was able to establish a military regime of his own that lasted from 1197 to 1258. The Ch’oe family, however, was content to rule behind the scenes, and it never actually usurped the throne. Hence, the dynasty continued to exist.

In the 13th century Koryŏ suffered from a series of invasions by the Mongols. King Kongmin (1352–74) attempted a set of reforms to drive out the invaders and eliminate their influence from the court, but without success. Finally, in 1392, the newly emerged Confucian scholar Gen. Yi Sŏng-gye overthrew the shaky dynasty and founded the Chosŏn (Yi) dynasty (1392–1910).

This article was most recently revised and updated by Lorraine Murray, Associate Editor.

Celadon Ewer, Goryeo Dynasty - History

National Treasure No. 95 "Celadon Incense Burner" from the Goryeo Kingdom / Courtesy of National Museum of Korea

By Kwon Mee-yoo

The aesthetic value of Korean traditional craft is generally found in the simplicity of its design and the practical purposes it is made for, but Koreans also have delicate hands to add elaborate details onto craftworks.

A special exhibit "Exquisite and Precious: The Splendor of Korean Art" at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Hannam-dong, Seoul, provides a rare opportunity to give a look into the exquisite handiworks of Korean master artisans.

The title of the exhibition ― "Exquisite and Precious" ― came from a Chinese envoy's phrase praising during the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) era. Xu Jing, an envoy from China's Song dynasty, said "Goryeo's mother-of-pearl inlay techniques are so exquisite that they are truly precious," according to the 1123 book "Illustrated Record of the Chinese Embassy to the Goryeo Court in the Xuanhe Era."

Celadon Ewer from the Goryeo Kingdom / Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

Leeum's previous exhibit "Opulence: Treasures of Korean Traditional Craft" shed light on the decorative side of Korean traditional art in 2013 and the private museum expanded its attempt to give attention to an often-neglected side of Korean craftwork.

This exhibit features some 140 pieces of Korea's most cherished craftwork, including 21 National Treasures and 26 Treasures. Leeum prepared for the exhibit over four years, renting over 40 treasures from the top art institutions across the globe, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum.

Instead of categorizing the treasures in chronological order, Leeum classified them based on artistic component of each artifact ― "Pattern: Magnificence and Precision," "Form: Elegance and Craftsmanship" and "Brushwork: Creativity and Command."

"Perfect Enlightenment Sutra Illumination"
/Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Precise patterns

The exhibit begins with the "Celadon Ewer with lotus pattern" from the 13th century Goryeo. The 32-centimeter-tall gourd-shaped bottle has a surprising amount of details from delicate lotus petals engraved on the bottle inlaid with red pigment to a young boy-shaped adornment on its neck. A frog is sculpted on the handle.

There are only three of such celadon ewers left around the world and two of them are currently on display, including the one borrowed from the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg.

The complex decorative patterns are found in Korean craftworks throughout history from the Bronze Age to the 19th century. The gold crown from Gaya Kingdom (43-532) and golden earrings from the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) and Baekje Kingdom (B.C. 18-A.D. 660) showcase the highest perfection of metalwork.

"Falcon on a Perch" by Yi Am / Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

A pair of gilt bronze candlesticks with embedded crystals is an example of workmanship of Korean craftsmen because it consists of several parts of a stick and dishes.

Inlaying technique is another characteristic of Korean artwork that became evident during the Goryeo Kingdom.

"Goryeo achieved economic stability and became culturally advanced. The upper class enjoyed and supported culture, resulting in high quality craftwork. However, it doesn't just come from large sums of money, but from a discerning eye in art," Leeum curator Lee Seung-hye said. "The predominant culture during Goryeo was Buddhism, which also influence the opulence of handicraft, unlike Neo-Confucianism, which emphasizes modesty and dominated the Joseon Kingdom."

"Fisherman and Woodcutter in Conversation"
/ Courtesy of Kansong Art Museum

The Sutra Boxes from Goryeo era is a collection of highly praised craft skills of lacquerware and mother-of-pearl. The exquisite arabesque patterns are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, raising the quality of wooden boxes to the level of finest handicraft.

"At least five artisans are required to make lacquerwork inlaid with mother-of-pearl ― a carpenter to do the woodwork, the person who collects sap of the lacquer tree, the person who refines the sap, the person who varnishes with lacquer and the artisan who inlays mother-of-pearl on wood," Lee explained.

There are only eight of the boxes left across the globe and six of them are currently on display at Leeum. Many of them share similar shapes and patterns, as the Goryeo government established a department in charge of the craft, regulating the creation of the sutra boxes due to the popularity of the lacquerware.

Korean ceramics including the famous Goryeo celadon known for its jade color are also on display. The Tile from the seventh century Baekje Kingdom is considered the first landscape of Korea with mountains and a temple.

'Portrait of Oh Jae-sun' by Yi Myeong-gi from the Joseon Kingdom
/ Courtesy of Leeum

Elegant forms

The second section of the exhibit celebrates the handmade shapes of Korean craft. Some of the works dealt with glorified Buddhist saints, while others focused on practicality.

The Buddhist statues were first made with clay and then transferred to a mold for casting into bronze. The sculptors showed their finest handiwork, creating balanced body proportions and graceful gestures.

Meanwhile, hand-thrown ceramics offered visual delight for aspects of everyday life.

"Most of the shapes took inspiration from nature and some combined imagination and reality," Lee said. "Water dropper and brush stand are a part of stationery, which are everyday objects for scholars. The unique shapes add liveliness to the desk set."

Among them, a blue-and-white porcelain water dropper from 19th century Joseon catches the eye. It describes the peaks of the Geumgangsan Mountain, completed with a pavilion on the top. Back then, the mountain was one of the top tourist destinations and having a mountain-shaped water dropper must have caught the eyes of scholars.

Sutra Box from the Goryeo Kingdom / Courtesy of British Museum

Creative brushwork

The final part features the finest of Korean traditional paintings from Buddhist paintings to portraits.

The Buddhist paintings come in a variety of techniques. In the Goryeo Kingdom, most of the Buddhist paintings were colored on silk, but a rare Amitabha from the late 14th century is embroidered on silk with fine details. Some of the sutra are painted with gold pigments on indigo paper, maximizing the splendor.

The portraits from Joseon Kingdom are known for its realistic description of details, including facial hair and wrinkles.

"The portrait of Chae Je-gong, dating back to 1792, has a unique aspect. King Jeongjo ordered court painter Yi Myeong-gi to draw this portrait to commemorate Chae's service to the government," Lee explained. "The pose in most Joseon portraits are standardized and the hands are hidden in sleeves. However, this portrait has Chae's hands out because he had to hold the fan and perfumed sachet, which were gifted by the king."

Also on display are royal procession paintings from Joseon Kingdom, which give a glimpse of royal parades during the era.

The exhibit runs through Sept. 13. Admission is 8,000 won for adults. English audio guide is available. For more information, visit www.leeum.org or call (02) 2014-6901.

Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, has collected, preserved, exhibited, and researched important Korean artworks from prehistoric times through the Joseon Dynasty (1395-1910). As a result, the museum has built a collection of fine artworks representative of Korea’s long history across diverse fields as well as highly valuable scholarly research materials.

Leeum’s traditional art collection includes all genres of Korean art, ranging from ceramics, painting and calligraphy, metal works, and Buddhist art to wood furniture, folk painting, and printed books and manuscripts. Celadon from the Goryeo Dynasty (937-1392) as well as Buncheong wares and white porcelain from the Joseon Dynasty in the collection demonstrate great achievements made by Korean potters. The painting and calligraphy collection includes masterpieces by leading painters such as Jeong Seon and Gim Hong-do, along with other works that cover various time periods and themes. The Goryeo Buddhist paintings and folk paintings also constitute an integral part of the museum’s robust painting collection. The metal works and Buddhist art add diversity to Leeum’s traditional art collection. The metal ware collection includes pieces representative of each time period in Korean history, from the Bronze Age to the late Joseon Dynasty, while the Buddhist statues and ritual tools illustrate characteristics of Korean sculpture beyond their original function as objects of worship.

MUSEUM 1_Beyond Time

MUSEUM 1 was built in the shape of a castle and is reminiscent of a symbolic fortress that protects the timeless value of traditional art. Inside this building, Leeum displays over 120 pieces of carefully selected traditional art on four floors based on theme and time period. The 4th floor has celadon from the Goryeo Dynasty the 3rd floor houses Buncheong wares and white porcelain from the Joseon Dynasty the 2nd floor features traditional paintings and calligraphy works and the 1st floor has Buddhist art and metal works. Furthermore, MUSEUM 1 has provided a communion between artworks under a shared theme called “Beyond Time” by exhibiting selected contemporary artworks alongside traditional works in a harmonious way since the summer of 2014 to celebrate Leeum’s 10th anniversary.


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