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Korean Celadon Bowl
with Molded Three-boy Décor
韓國三男紋青瓷碗

Diameter: 18.4 cm. (7 1/4 in.)
Height: 6.4 cm. (2 1/2 in.)

Goryeo dynasty
12th-13th century

 

(NOTE: Further information is provided below the detailed images.)

Details:

 

Box inscription:
高麗青磁 鉢
“Goryeo Celadon Bowl”

 

The light grey stoneware bowl was thinly potted with rounded sides and a narrow, delicate foot surrounding the recessed base where irregularly placed spur marks are visible. A design consisting of three young boys frolicking in a lotus lagoon is mold-impressed on the interior. Each child is depicted in a different posture–one seen from the rear, another as if diving headfirst through the flora, and yet another seen from behind with arms outstretched grasping onto a lotus stem with one hand and a scrolling leaf with the other. Each boy is draped in an oversized scarf. A multi-petalled floret in the well completes the design. The sea-foam green glaze displays a lovely luminescence, and signs of use are apparent throughout.

Chinese ceramic technology was the springboard for Korea’s emergence as a vibrant center of celadon production during the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392) when this extraordinary ceramic was produced. The Yue tradition of northern Zhejiang, representing China’s earliest and quintessential celadon, was a seminal influence and it is thought that Yue potters might have even migrated to Korea where they would have contributed first-hand to the Goryeo enterprise. Both southern yingqing and northern Chinese celadon styles are also reflected in the Korean products. However, the present piece, with its three cherubic boys navigating their flowery world, directly corresponds to similarly decorated 12th-century Ding ware produced in Hebei province (fig. 1). Chinese ceramics discovered at a site in Inner Mongolia included a group of easily identifiable Yaozhou celadons from Shaanxi province and one bowl strikingly similar to the Korean piece here, the principle difference being the presence of two rather than three toddlers in the excavated piece (fig. 2). The boy motif, similar to those, appears also at kilns to the south, at Jingdezhen, as exemplified in a stunning covered box, with a youth taking center stage on the lid (fig. 3).1

Chinese ceramics were transported far and wide and in Korea, where Ding and yingqing wares along with southern celadons were most popular, have been discovered in the ruins of government buildings, royal residences, religious establishments, domestic dwellings, tombs, and in seabed remains of sunken cargo ships that had been transporting the wares from China.2 Ding and Jingdezhen wares appear to have been most popular, along with celadons primarily from the south. Close ties between the Northern Song and Goryeo courts included the exchange of goods including ceramics, a very direct means by which the potters in Korea would have had access, through the royal household, to fine Chinese wares that could serve as models. Perhaps the collapse of the Song court in the north with the invasion of the Jin contributed to the Goryeo potters racing forward and independently with novel ideas and styles they could indisputably call their own.

Bowls similar to the present include one in the Honolulu Museum of Art where the three youths similar to the present are at play among grape vines (fig. 4). Gompertz published a bowl in his collection that is almost identical to the present aside from its notched rim and some very minor details in the decoration (fig. 5).

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1. A yingqing bowl with two boys within foliage was illustrated in Dated Qingbai Wares of the Song and Yuan Dynasties, Hong Kong, 1998, no. 65, found in 1972 in Yihuanxian, Jiangxi province and dated to 1201, presumably the death date of a tomb occupant. A similar bowl with the two boys amidst scrolling peony is illustrated in the Kai-Yin Lo Collection in Bright as Silver White as Snow: Chinese White Ceramics from Late Tang to Yuan Dynasty, Hong Kong, 1998, pl. 39 and attributed to the Northern Song period.

2. For an English summary of an article by See Lee Myoung-ok, “The Conditions and Characteristics of Chinese Ceramics Excavated from Sites of the Goryeo Dynasty: A Study Focused on Archaeological Findings from South Korea,” see Bulletin of the National Museum of Japanese History, vol. 223, March 2021, pp.337-338.

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Fig. 1: Ding ware molded bowl, Song dynasty, 12th century, British Museum, after Jan Wirgin, Sung Ceramic Design, Stockholm, 1970, plate 84a; fig. 19f for rubbing.

 

Fig. 2: Yaozhou celadon molded bowl with detail, Jin dynasty, 12th century, after Porcelain Unearthed from Ji’ninglu Ancient City Site in Inner Mongolia, Beijing, 2004, no. 156, pp. 216-217.

 

Fig. 3: Yingqing covered box, Song dynasty, 12th century, private collection, after Kaikodo Journal III (Spring 1997), cat. no. 54, p. 165.

 

Fig. 4: Molded celadon bowl, Goryeo dynasty, 12th century, after G.St.G.M. Gompertz, Korean Celadon, London, 1963, pl. 28B.

 

Fig. 5: Molded celadon bowl, Goryeo dynasty, 12th century, Honolulu Museum of Art, after Splendor and Serenity: Korean Ceramics from the Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, 2015, pl. 20.

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