Stoneware with inlaid decoration of cranes and clouds under celadon glaze; H. 11 1/2 in. (29.2 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1927 (27.119.11)
A maebyeong is a vessel with a small mouth, short neck, round shoulder, and constricted waist. The form is derived from the Chinese meiping, or "prunus vase." The Goryeo maebyeong is distinguished from its Chinese counterpart by a saucer-shaped mouth and a body that forms a pronounced S-shaped curve, resulting in a slightly flared base. A few of these vessels in China and Korea have retained a cup-shaped cover over the mouth, suggesting that they were used to store wine.
Although inlay was widely employed throughout East Asia in metalwork and lacquerware, the use of the inlay technique in the decoration of celadon ware, known as sanggam, is peculiar to Korea. In this technique, the design is incised or carved into the unbaked, leather-hard clay with a needle or wooden tool and the resulting depressions are filled in with a white or black substance. The piece is given a biscuit or first firing, then coated with a celadon glaze and fired again at a higher temperature. By the mid-twelfth to early thirteenth century, the inlay technique had become the most frequently used method of decoration in Korean celadon ware. Its successful application to celadons was made possible by the Korean potters' development of highly translucent glazes that allowed the decoration underneath to show through clearly.
The body of this maebyeong is ornamented with inlaid clouds and cranes, symbols of longevity. The design is enhanced by the black outline of the funguslike heads and long trail of the white clouds, and the black curved strokes that define the plumage of the birds. Encircling the mouth and base is a key-fret pattern. This repeated squared spiral derives from the ancient Chinese "thunder pattern," and is frequently found on Chinese and Korean decorative objects and architectural ornaments.