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A Brief History of Korean Ceramics
Oct 03, 2018

A Brief History of Korean Ceramics

The history of Korean pottery also begins with earthenware. Around 5000 BC in the Neolithic age, earthenware with decoration of raised bands applied around the body began to appear and later earthenware with incised slanting comb patterns covering the whole body was made throughout the peninsula. By 1000 BC such wares were replaced with undecorated, plain earthenware resembling Yayoi (c.300 BC?300 AD) pottery in Japan. Around the beginning of the Christian era, the technology of potter’s wheel and kiln firing were introduced from China. In the countries of Goguryo, Silla, Paekche and Gaya during the Three Kingdoms period (c.300?668AD), grayish black, high-fired stoneware was made. Around the same time, low-fired green-glazed ware also began to appear, which developed dramatically through the succeeding Unified Silla period (668?935AD).


Around the tenth century of the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), celadon and white porcelain were fired for the first time in Korea. Goryeo celadon was originally inspired by the Chinese Yue ware of the Five Dynasties period (907-960) in northern Zhejiang Province. By the twelfth century, however, Goryeo celadon achieved its originality which can be observed from the beautiful hue of the glaze with a sound bluish tinge called the “Bisaek (kingfisher color)” and the distinct inlay technique in which the engraved motif was filled with different types of slip that turned white or black after firing. The two leading production sites of Goryeo celadon were Kangjin and Buan, both lying on the southwest region of the peninsula. Celadon with iron painted decoration and black glazed ware were also produced. The political instability from around the fourteenth century, though, changed the style of Goryeo celadon that once reached its zenith into grayish hard-bodied stoneware that is more suitable for practical use and mass production.


At the beginning of Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), a new type of ware developed, known as buncheong ware (mishima in Japan) in which the clay body of the celadon from the end of the Goryeo dynasty was covered with various decorations using white slip. Unlike the delicacy and elaborateness of Goryeo celadon, the decoration of buncheong is generally robust and audacious. Examples of such decorative techniques are hakeme, in which daring brush marks were made on the body with white slip, and kohiki, the decoration of which was made by dipping the ware into the slip. Gyeryongsan ware, which was named after its production site located in Banpo-myon, Gongju-gun, Chungcheongnam-do, is famous for its iron-painted design. Some of these buncheong wares were imported to Japan and called “Korai-jawan (Goryeo tea bowl)” and treasured by Japanese collectors.


Production of white porcelain, on the other hand, began on a full scale around early fifteenth century. It became the leading ceramic ware of the dynasty for its pure white, simple decoration was considered suitable for the idea of Confucianism that had been their state ideology. White porcelain, regarded as the king’s vessel, was produced at the imperial kilns that spread throughout the region of Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do. The production also began in provincial areas by the latter half of the sixteenth century. Porcelain with decoration painted in underglaze cobalt blue, the so-called blue-and-white ware, began to appear by mid-fifteenth century, featuring artistry and purity distinctive of the Joseon dynasty. In the seventeenth century, however, the difficulty of importation of cobalt blue pigment from China resulted in the rise in popularity of motifs drawn in iron-brown pigment. In the first half of the eighteenth century developed a new type of blue-and-white ware known in Japan as “autumn-grass style” in which plants were unpretentiously depicted on a milky white body in pale blue pigment. In 1752, when the imperial kilns were gathered in Buwong-ri, Gwangju, ceramic production flourished under stable condition, including blue-and-white ware and porcelain with skillful use of underglaze copper-red or iron-brown decoration as well as stationary and wine vessels that suited the tastes of the literati. In the nineteenth century, the rise of the middle class led to the development of auspicious symbols wishing for longevity and fecundity as well as motifs containing elements of folk painting that represent the hope of receiving practical benefit in this world. They became some of the most commonly used styles expressed in craft works.


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