Bird-shaped vessel

Period: Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.–A.D. 676)

Date: 3rd century

Culture: Korea

Medium: Earthenware

Dimensions: H. 12 7/8 in. (32.7 cm); W. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm); L. 13 7/8 in. (35.2 cm)

Classification: Ceramics

Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1997

Accession Number: 1997.34.1


Footed vessels of this type, produced in Korea during the late second and third centuries A.D., may have derived their form from earlier Chinese bronzes. In Chinese funerary art of the Western Han (206 B.C.–9 A.D.), birds with fantastic tails and heads served as vehicles that carried souls from the earthly realm to that of the immortals. Korean bird-shaped vessels, most of which have been found at burial sites in the southern part of the peninsula in the area once controlled by the Kaya Federation (42–562), were probably intended for use in ritual ceremonies. The vessel would have been filled with liquid through the opening in the back, and the tail served as the spout. The low-fired grayish white body clearly distinguishes these vessels from ceramic objects intended for everyday use. This example illustrates the sophisticated blending of the naturalistic and the formal that characterizes Korea's ceramic tradition. The bird's curvaceous body provides a striking contrast to the prominent angular crest, protruding ears, and long narrow beak.