What Makes Korean Pottery So Unique?

Korea is renowned for its beautiful pottery, and its interesting to see how their distinct style formed over time.


Early Neolithic pottery had narrow bases, a shape that can be seen in much later ceramics as well. They often included “comb patterns”, featuring parallel lines and dots.

 


Specimens from the Silla (57 BCE – 935 CE) period are often gray and black, although some specimens are tinted brown from oxidation. There are visible shaman influences in the patterns and figures of this time period.

 

After the 5th century, shaman elements vanished as Buddhist influence increased in Korea. During this period, stamps were used for standardized designs on pottery and urns. This standardization contrasts with the free form works of the early Silla period.


The most famous style of Korean ceramics, and by far the most distinctive, is Celadon pottery. Celadon originally arrived in Korea from China during the Sung period (960 CE-1729 CE), likely from the T’zu-yao kilns in the 900s CE.

celadon

By the early 12th century, Chinese influence diminished and Korean potters took creative ownership of the technique. It reached its height of popularity during the Koryo dynasty. The ideal celadon glaze was supposed to remind the viewer of the sea with its iridescence, while still maintaining the cool green of jade, one of the most valued treasures in Chinese culture.

 

Inlaying, or sanggam, a Korean innovation, involves the incision of designs into clay, followed by filling the indented areas with white, or less commonly, black, slip. The excess slip was removed prior to firing. Inlaying techniques, combined with the celadon glaze, are what set Korean ceramics apart from the rest.


During the Joseon dynasty (1392 CE-1897 CE), white porcelain became very popular. The rise of Confucian values influenced the more practical designs.

Very common are the elements of the“Four Gentlemen”- plum blossoms, orchids, chrysanthemums, and bamboo.

Korean Porcelain
Korean Porcelain
Popular motifs and their meanings:

Circle: The circle represents the Sun and worship for the Sun.

Fish: The fish represents a superior realization.

Lotus: The lotus stands for the Sun and mercy of Buddha

Tiger: The tiger design symbolizes a guardian, and charm.

Peony: The peony depicts richness and honors.

Dragon: The dragon stands for the all mighty.

Duck: The duck symbolizes the Premiere ranking.

Chrysanthemum: The chrysanthemum symbolizes health and well-being.

Crane: The crane represents Immortality. Encircled cranes are female, no circle is male.

Pine Tree: The pine tree depicts royalty and fidelity.


Kyeonggi-do Province
Ichon in Gyonggi-do Province continues to maintain traditional Korean ceramic styles. It is the perfect environment for creating these works, as it has high quality clay, and water free of minerals that could affect coloring.
The intricacy and detail on Korean ceramics is truly amazing. Next time you visit an art museum, in Korea or elsewhere, make sure to see if they have any of these Korean beauties.
XOXO, Seoulmate ♥

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