|During the Koryo era (918-1392), Koreans potters developed the art of making celadon, produced by firing clay at reduced temperatures while using a specific oxidation process. What results from this method is a unique gray-green, or “kingfisher” color, shining through an exquisite glaze on the ceramicware. As celadon production advanced in quality throughout the various kilns of the Korean peninsula where ceramic clays were readily available, a distinctively Korean style of celadon surfaced that was unmatchable in quality. In the twelfth century, Korean celadon became the most sophisticated of its class, incorporating pioneering techniques and exquisite artistry that stand out in the history of ceramics.
Green-glazed ceramicware from China was regularly found in Korea as early as the ninth century, influencing Korean potters who integrated the firing conditions necessary to produce celadon in their own kilns. Resembling jade in color and shine, celadon was highly prized among the Chinese. Korean potters practiced the craft of making celadon in the Chinese style; their efforts ranged from glazes that were a brownish-yellow color to glazes that achieved the highly-coveted, kingfisher color. Because celadon of the latter quality required precisely maintained temperatures to attain, Korean potters worked on mastering smooth, even tones of the gray-green variety in their ceramicware through the eleventh century.
Sometime in the twelfth century, Korean celadon production reached a pinnacle of craftsmanship admired by many cultures to this day. A new type of celadon emerged that was strictly Korean, introducing innovative results that were masterfully crafted and almost impossible to imitate. It is believed that a single potter discovered the techniques specific to Korean celadon, which is distinguishable from the Chinese product in a number of ways.
To begin with, Korean celadon was baked and fired on heaps of sand, resulting in the presence of sand particles on the base of each piece. The glaze was characteristic in that it extended to the foot-ring and base of each piece. Because the foot-ring and base were glazed, three or more spur marks left by the stilts upon which the vessels rested made for another unique attribute. The most impressive aspects of Korean celadon, however, are found in the quality of the glazes, the various shapes, and the use of decorations, each truly distinguishing Korean celadon among others.
Inlaid designs in Korean celadon were the first of their kind and opened up the possibilities for glazing and designing pottery as a thing of beauty. An inlaid design consisted of an image or figure made by hand or mold, imprinted beneath the surface of the clay, and evenly filled with the body of the piece using white, black, or red clay mixed with water. The piece was then baked, glazed, and baked for a second time, resulting in inlaid patterns and decorations of sparkling colors that enhanced the shimmering quality of the celadon glaze. In combination with incised and carved designs, inlaying became the most frequent type of decoration in use for celadon during the celebrated Koryo period.
Korean refinement of celadon resulted in glazes that were semitransparent and lighter. The emerald color of the glaze, at times likened to a stunning bluish-gray, was consistently executed with unmatchable perfection during this peak period. During this period, the Korean celadon glaze further evolved to include the iron glaze and the copper underglaze. For the first time ever, the smooth ocean green tone of celadon was interrupted by beautiful undertones of red. (Some scholars attest that this technique was used in China during earlier centuries, but it is widely accepted that the Korean potter developed the technique independent of foreign influence). Decorative techniques expanded to incorporate such novelties as painted celadon, celadon with raised patterns, celadon painting in iron underglazes, painted iron designs on celadon, and celadon painted with striking gold. In addition, sculptured celadon pieces were perfected during the Koryo period and are also regarded as a Korean development.
Though painted designs included both the playful and formal, the artistry itself was far from frivolous. Executed with precision were expressive images ranging from delicate to bold and refined to casual. Parrots, fish, melons, and lotus flowers were among the favorite motifs of Korean potters, as were cranes in flight, willows and waterfowls, and chrysanthemums and peonies. Depictions of nature in general make a charming attribute of Korean pottery, as a myriad of animals and plants are consistently portrayed with simplicity and grace.
Korean celadon also stood out for the range of shapes in which the pottery could be found. Nobles of Koryo times highly treasured celadon wares. Though potters were not then considered artists, the fruits of their labor were considered luxury goods for aristocrats and members of the royal family to possess. Kilns were regularly supervised by court officials. Celadon items made for their convenience and enjoyment include bowls, cups, ewers, teapots, wine jugs, wine pots, and food and water storage jars.
Imagine one example of a celadon ewer, dating from the Koryo period sometime between 1100-1150. In the form of a bamboo shoot, overlapping leaves of bamboo cover the body of the ewer as the straight, defined lines of each bamboo leaf aim towards varying directions within the crackle glaze. Inlaid designs grace everything from the lid, to the handle, to the spout of the ewer, and red copper tones are visible near its base. The potter’s obvious care with meticulous details produces stoneware that is ultimately simple, refined, and elegant.
Subtly incised decorations were highly favored among the aristocratic elite. For example, a bowl dating between 1100-1150 carries a parrot and flower design. Etched within the inside of the bowl, the light, flowing design is visible but barely perceptible.
Flower vases and bottles were also popular vessels, as were boxes for jewelry and round cosmetic boxes. Cosmetic boxes were made for the court and aristocrats and commonly had inlaid designs of the most popular motifs such as those described above.
Though less common, other widely held shapes include boxes fitted with trays, incense burners, water droppers used for making black ink, and water sprinklers used in Buddhist ceremonies that were highly prevalent during the Koryo period. Therefore, celadon-glazed ceramics were not only prized by the nobility, they were also used for temple ceremonies.
By Koryo custom, special objects were buried with the dead. This enabled the preservation of hundreds of magnificent examples of Korean celadon to remain intact through the present century. Japanese collectors were among the first to examine celadon specimens of the Koryo period, and their present-day pottery is highly influenced by Korea’s art of making celadon.
Following Mongol invasion in the thirteenth century and a subsequent history that was equally turbulent, Korean celadon production has never revived to its twelfth century vigor and vitality. Revival is however, in progress in Ich’on, a village near Seoul where Korean potters have lived for about 600 years. Few modern-day Korean potters achieve the perfection of Koryo celadon, though the essence of its spirit and artistry lives on through contemporary collections that incorporate cultural values and lasting technique.
At Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen, our individually handmade celadon selection includes one-of-a-kind Korean celadon vases located in the Giftware category, a Chinese celadon tableware set located in the Tableware category under Gift Set/Tableware Set, and a Korean celadon teacup collection in the Teaware category under Teacup-Single (Above $20) range. Our Korean celadon teacups include built-in infusers and matching lids in the tradition of a design mastered over one thousand years ago by Korean potters. In addition to incorporating innovative techniques, our celadon selection boasts a beautiful array of inlaid designs, masterful painting, and shiny glazes fired at just the right temperature to produce magnificent color. Our celadon series of chopsticks rests incorporate the plant and animal designs so treasured by Korean royalty in the Koryo era and include turtle, bamboo, and carp patterns that are popular to this day. Browse through our Tableware category to find celadon dishes, plates, and saucers, or type in celadon under our Search option.
Whether you are shopping for Korean celadon at Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen or elsewhere, keep in mind the indications of superior quality you deserve to have in your personal collection. The right color and shine are essential, as demonstrated by the diligent efforts of Korean celadon potters who pioneered their techniques. Look for a gray-green, or gray-blue shine with a crackle glaze and attempt to avoid pottery tinged in brownish-yellow. Also important are inlaid designs that are masterfully molded with clarity, body, and precision. The most minute of details must be executed with utmost care, in every aspect of the shaping, coloration, or decoration of a Korean celadon vessel. Only thus can a product gain inclusion in this highly distinguished form of ceramicware.
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