Joseon Pottery

Antique · Korean · Pottery

Antique Korean pottery from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) may be lesser known than its super-famous counterpart, the Chinese ceramics, but is becoming increasingly popular amongst collectors. The beginning of the Joseon Dynasty marks an important turn in Korean pottery production, as from that point on, the colour white would come to gradually replace the until then dominant green celadon glazes of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), to a point when, by the mid 15th century, the vast majority of ceramics produced in Korean territory were already made around the new dominant colour. The reason for this to have happened is that the new Imperial family had chosen white for their court wares, following the example of the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644). It was a choice intimately connoted with the state ideology of Confucianism, as the colour white was regarded the most suitable for representing the simplicity embedded in that philosophical concept. Most of the ware for the Imperial court was manufactured in a group of kilns near what is now Seoul, in the region of Gwangju, kilns that were sponsored by the Royal family, to provide the court with their necessities for ceramic items. The shift from celadon to white firstly began with the appearance of buncheong ware, at the beginning of the newly established Dynasty, a type of ware made through a process consisting in applying white slip decoration over the celadon glazes, a feature that is very interesting, because in this way we are able to perceive the colour change in Korean ceramics as a kind of chrysalis process, through which the items gradually become whiter, whilst crossing different decorative techniques (today this type of early white decorated celadon ware is exceedingly rare and very well prized amongst Japanese collectors). Eventually, with the arrival of the new century, celadon glazes were abandoned and ceramic pieces definitely acquired white bodies, which were then decorated in various ways and pigments, particularly cobalt blue, copper red and iron brown, the latter in replacement of the first, when the high prices demanded by China to sell the cobalt blue pigment became unaffordable for the Korean purse. Iron brown thence became widely used in Korean pottery, not only because of the instability in regard to the sourcing of cobalt, but also because the copper red pigment was much more difficult to work with, and the technique was not dominated by Korean potters until the 18th century. Marked by the inherent minimalism of Confucianism, motifs in Korean ceramics are aesthetically sober and extremely clean, and appointments in colour are fluid, subtle and unpretentious. Antique Korean Joseon pottery is not as widely available as Chinese, because production and trade were never even near the level as those of China, making them scarcer and harder to find pieces. In most cases, what are showing up in the market are examples from the second half of the 19th century, which can widely vary in between $1,000 and $50,000 according to the quality of the item. Occasionally items prior to the 19th century are also showing up, with 18th century examples fetching considerable amounts at auctions worldwide. Quality vases from the 18th and early 19th century Joseon Dynasty can be worth millions, with a few records showing off results in excess of 3 million dollars. Early buncheong ware is in museums or in important collections; perhaps the latest notable example to appear at auction was a 15th century moon flask (formerly in the collection of a prestigious Japanese collector), selling at Christie’s back in 2018, also for an amount in excess of 3 million dollars. Antique Joseon Dynasty pottery has proven to be a secure investment value, with late 19th century items still very affordable and promising to build-up in the future, making them an excellent alternative to the usually more expensive Chinese ceramics. 

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