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Beauty of Goryeo celadon revealed

2012/10/21 | Permalink | Source

Celadon vase with inlaid crane and cloud designs
/ Courtesy of National Museum of Korea

By Kwon Mee-yoo

From diversely shaped vases to an openwork incense burner supported by three little rabbits, the essence of Goryeo celadon or "cheongja" is on display at the National Museum of Korea (NMK).

"The Best under Heaven, the Celadons of Korea" is the first exhibition dedicated to Goryeo celadon at the Nation Museum in some 20 years.

"This exhibition is based on the progress of studies on celadon in recent months. It provides a comprehensive view on Goryeo celadon from its origin to techniques used to make it", said Kang Kyeong-nam, curator of the NMK.

>More than 350 celadon pieces are on exhibit, including 18 National Treasures as well as 11 treasures and two important cultural assets from Japan, to elucidate the three characteristics of Goryeo celadon - its jade-green color, "sanggam" inlay technique and hieroglyphic celadon.

The exhibition begins with the origin of Goryeo celadon and explains how

the luminous green color was developed by applying glaze. Pottery shards from kiln sites and those salvaged from sunken ships also gives a peek into the history.

The gorgeous pale jade-green color is a secret of Goryeo celadon, and cannot be reproduced now. The key is related to the quality of soil, ratio of iron in the glaze and position of ceramics in the kiln but no one has yet succeeded in recreating the color.
The various pieces on display defy the stereotypes of ceramic jars. There are ceramic ink jars and stones, makeup boxes, roof tiles and even a chamber pot.

Goryeo people decorated their houses with celadon roof tiles and plates with delicate patterns adorning houses.

Celadon incense burners show that Goryeo people enjoyed scents in their life, maybe similar to the way modern people use diffusers and scented candles for aromatherapy. Ceramic boxes were also used for holding make-up including hair dye.

Details on the sanggam technique, a unique method of inlay are also explained, as Goryeo potters inserted different types of clay and metal wires to create various colors.

"Researchers see that the sanggam technique came during exchanging techniques between other craft such as wooden lacquer ware", Kang said.

Instead of denying influences from China, the articles on display show how Goryeo celadon was developed independently, adding delicate patterns to ceramics.

The highlight of the exhibition is the fourth part, "Defining the Best Under Heaven". Regarding Goryeo celadon as "the best under heaven" comes from a phrase by Taiping Laoren from Southern Song China. In his book "Xiuzhouggin", he used the term to evaluate the jade color of Goryeo celadon.

In this section, 22 pieces carefully chosen to represent the best of Goryeo celadon ware are on display. Visitors are surrounded by jewels and Goryeo celadon upon entering this part of exhibit.

"Celadon vase with inlaid crane and cloud designs", one of the most popular Goryeo works, is also on display. The vase has extremely detailed crane and cloud patterns.

"Celadon incense burner with lion-shaped lid", National Treasure No. 61, portrays the lion as the guardian of Buddhism, the state religion of Goryeo. Water droppers in the shape of a girl, boy and monkey show the humor of the Goryeo period.

"Gourd-shaped ewer with lid and stand" has inlaid grapes and boys as part of the design. The grapes were created by inserting copper wires, which prodeuced the dark color of the fruit on celadon.

The exhibition runs through Dec. 6. Admission is 3,000 won for adults.

For more information, visit or call (02) 2077-9000.

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