Satisfying both practical and stylish needs, Korean pottery has for centuries been a central form of artistic expression in this ancient culture. Ceramics also stand out as the most famous of Korean art forms sought after by art historians and connoisseurs around the world. However, to take a comprehensive look at Korean pottery it is imperative that we look back at the country's history and foundation as the past has truly cast a mold for this ancient art.
The Three Kingdoms period (100 BCE-668BC) gave rise to the birth of pottery in Korea. During the Silla Era (668-935), Korean pottery was characterized by simplicity in shape, color, and design. A celadon glaze and color was primarily used for pieces during this period, and its basic white appearance and simplicity was actively sought as a distinguishing feature to set Korean pottery apart from the more complex styles of China at the time.
The Goryeo Dynasty (918 -1392) saw a shift from earthenware culture develop into designs made of ceramic and is the period known for producing some of the finest, small-scale pieces that have ever been discovered. It was during this period that intricate designs such as geometric images, fish, insects, flower and elliptical bands, foliate, and incised images began appearing on the pottery in Korea.
Celedon, brown, and black glazes enhanced large and small bowls, broad-shouldered bottles, and inlaid cups while the Buddhist pottery forms appeared in melon-shaped vases and chrysanthemum cups enhanced by unique architectural structures made on stands with lotus themes and lotus flower heads.
The Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) is known for producing the highest quality of pottery and is considered the golden age of Korean pottery. Its style took cues from Chinese forms in regards to color, shape, and technique. Pear-shaped bottles were prominent during this period as were both thinner and colorless glazes used for stoneware.
Pottery of the Joseon period is often divided into three different stages: early (1300-1500), middle (1500-1700), and late (1700-1910). The style fluctuated between the complex and the simple, reflecting the tastes of various regions and older Korean traditions. The increasing influence of Confucianist thought and its ideals led to purer, less pretentious forms absent of artifice and complexity, and saw a rise in the popularity of white porcelain.
Today, many ceramic villages or dochon exist where the ceramic making tradition in Korea still continues. The Incheon Ceramics Village is the largest of these and has over 80 ceramic factories. Visitors are able to take tours of the pottery factories and see the process from start to finish with their own eyes. The tours serve as an invaluable tool to learn about the history of Korean pottery firsthand and, of course, provide the opportunity to purchase modern Korean pottery that continues to be shaped and finely molded by that of the country's rich past.