color of the autumn sky right after a heavy rain shower is recreated
on earth through Goryeo celadon ceramic
ware. Potters from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) tinted their pottery works with a piece of the clear autumn sky,
demurely revealed through dark clouds after a heavy rainfall. The mysterious bluish-green color of celadon pottery
defies any man-made dye. It is the epitome of natural beauty that cannot be acquired from any scientific color
combination using modern technology.
Celadon pottery was first made in China, where potters from the Northern and Southern Dynasties discovered
that when ash landed on ceramic works being fired in kilns at a high temperature, the result was a wonderful
blue coat. The ash formed from burning wood chemically reacted with the clay to create a natural glaze which
hardened into a beautiful bluish finish when baked at 1300° Celsius inside the kilns. The technique of celadon
making was refined during the Tang Dynasty but was elevated to the zenith of its artistry during the Sung Dynasty
in the 12th century.
Korean potters who were introduced to China’s celadon making techniques in the mid-9th century began a new era
and aestheticism of celadon pottery by introducing their own unique skills and methods to the world. When celadon pottery
reached its artistic peak in 12th-century China, a new set of celadon-making techniques was being established by
Korean potters. Although celadon pottery from the Sung Dynasty is known for its majestic forms, extravagant
decorations, and opaque glazing, Goryeo celadon works feature natural, subtle forms perfectly and harmoniously in balance with soft, rhythmic lines and clear glazing. Until the 17th century, when Japan acquired the skills and practices of pottery-making through the kidnapping of Korean potters during the Japanese invasion, only Korea and China had the technology to create high-quality earthenware baked at very high temperatures. Many European countries imported celadon and other pottery styles from China until the 18th century when they finally launched their own unique ceramic methods.
There are several factors that set Goryeo celadon apart from others in the realm of ceramics
history. First of all, the “mysterious color” unique to Goryeo celadon was even referred to by
celebrated Goryeo poet, Yi Gyu-bo, as a piece stolen of “heavenly harmony.” The color that
envelops viewers with mysterious reflection, as if they are looking into the deep waters of a
calm lake, became the subject of admiration even by Chinese people who had introduced
the ware. In fact, a scholar from the Sung Dynasty declared in his writing that Goryeo
celadon was one of the best things in the world, surpassing China in the art of
celadon pottery, and that the rich, vivid color of Goryeo celadon was the
“best under heaven.”
Secondly, potters from the Goryeo Dynasty applied a unique decorative
practice to their celadon pottery making – the wonderful art of inlaying, the first
of its kind in the world. Inlaid celadon is made by incising the desired motifs onto the
surface of a vessel and filling in the area with white or red slip (clay mixture) before
applying the glaze. After firing, the white slip remains the same color while the
red slip turns black. The inlaying technique requires not only the highly refined
skill of balancing completely different materials but also a dexterous incising
ability as well as elegant taste, all of which go hand in hand with the sophisticated refinement of celadon pottery. This new technique resulted in an innovative change in celadon decoration. The conventional intaglio and relief techniques only allowed subtle decoration of a vessel; however, the introduction of the inlaying approach that resulted in vivid patterns shown through a thin layer of clear blue glaze marked the beginning of a new celadon era. Some of the most popular motifs include cranes, clouds, willow trees, grapes, children, lotus flowers, peonies, and chrysanthemums that reflect the longing for the eternal world and the lyrical awareness of the natural world by the Goryeo people. These motifs mesh perfectly with the mysterious jade color of Goryeo celadon, thus creating the most beautiful art work made of earth.
Melon-shaped Celadon Vase Inlaid with Peonies and Chrysanthemums
Goryeo, 12th Century
25.6cm in height and 10.9cm in diameter at its widest point
This vase is an impressive example of inlaid celadon works. It adopts the shape
of a blooming morning glory flower in the mouth, a melon with eight round
sections in the body, and pleated skirts in the flared foot to achieving a rhythmic
body harmoniously balanced. An indeterminate flare of the foot blends in with
the mouth of the vase shaped as nine petals of a flower to emit the air of warmth.
Two horizontal lines on the neck and inversed heart shapes on the top of the
body are inlaid with white clay. Peonies and chrysanthemums are inlaid
alternatively on eight sides of the body with both black and white; the bottom of
the body is decorated with lotus petal patterns using the same inlaying technique.
The fluid and graceful curve of the vase is in perfect synchronization with the
black and white patterns revealed through a thin coat of clear glaze, a color so
mysteriously beautiful that it captures the heart of the viewer.
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