Korean Pottery - History

History

The Three Kingdoms of Korea (57 BC-668 AD), namely Silla, Goguryeo, and Baekje, provided the beginning of Korean ceramic history. Rough domestic wares for the people were produced from numerous kilns. Likewise a number of very sophisticated statues of royal figures, guardians, and horses, equivalent to Chinese Han Dynasty figures, used for domestic and imperial votive shrines, as well as for escorts of the dead in tombs of the nobles and kings, were thrown on potter's wheels, while others were formed using the traditional hammered clay and coil method.

During the Unified Silla period (668–935) pottery was simple in colour, shape, and design. Celadon was subsequently the main production, with baekja porcelain wares developing slowly in the 14th century, when the pace accelerated with new glazes, better clays, and variations of the white of different clays.

The kilns at the time had to compete with Chinese wares on a variety of social levels. The Korean ceramic masters decided to distinguish Korean baekja or white porcelain from Chinese imports by maintaining simplicity in design when the problems of achieving white glazes were solved. Dating of glazes from this era has revealed a celadon or jade patina beneath white glazes.

Baekja wares came from highly refined white clay, glazed with feldspar, and fired in large regulated and clean kilns. Despite the refining process, white glazes invariably vary as a result of the properties of the clay itself; firing methods were not uniform, temperatures varied and glazes on pieces vary from pure white, in an almost snowy thickness, through milky white that shows the clay beneath deliberately in washed glaze, to light blue and light yellow patinas.

The baekja wares reached their zenith immediately before the Joseon Dynasty came to power. Fine pieces have recently been found in the area about Wolchil Peak in the Diamond Mountains. The transitional wares of white became expressions of the Joseon Dynasty celebrations of victory in many pieces decorated with Korean calligraphy. Traditionally white wares were used by both the scholarly Confucian class, the nobility and royalty on more formal occasions.

Simultaneously, the Buddhist traditions demanded celadon-glazed wares, and cheongja pieces of celadon porcelain with more organic shapes drawing on gourds, with animal and bird motifs that evolved very quickly. In some ways these were over-decorated wares, using exaggerated forms, stylized repeating designs and a wide variety of organic patterns.

Cheongja wares used refined clays with a bit of iron powder added, then a glaze with a bit of added iron powder added once again, then fired. The glaze was durable with a slightly shinier and glossier finish, in an oily way, than whitewares.

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