Gourd-shaped ewer decorated with waterfowl and reeds

Period: Goryeo dynasty (918–1392)

Date: early 12th century

Culture: Korea

Medium: Stoneware with carved and incised design under celadon glaze

Dimensions: H. 10 1/2 in. (26.7 cm); W. 7 7/8 in. (20 cm)

Classification: Ceramics

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1927

Accession Number: 27.119.2


Celadon wares are among the most widely admired of Korean ceramics. Produced in Korea during the Koryō dynasty, they reached the height of perfection in technology, form, and decoration between the early twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Around the ninth or tenth century, with the adoption of celadon production techniques used at the Yue kiln complex in modern Zhejiang Province in southeastern China, Koryō potters took the first step toward the manufacture of celadon ware. Initially influenced by Chinese techniques and designs, the Korean celadon industry, centered in the southwestern part of the peninsula, soon asserted its independence. By the early twelfth century, Korean potters had developed the refined forms, naturalistic designs, highly transparent glazes, and distinctive grayish blue-green color that won high praise from visiting Chinese, one of whom pronounced Korean celadons as "first under Heaven." The color of Koryō celadon ware is derived from the presence of small amounts of iron oxide in the glaze, which was fired in a reduced oxygen atmosphere.

Koryō potters initially decorated their celadon wares with incised or carved designs, as seen on this wine container. Carved decoration was executed using one of two methods. In the first method, a needle was used to incise the design in the leather-hard clay, after which a sharp tool was pressed against the lines at an angle to emphasize the design. In the second method, the clay around the edges of the design was carved away, causing the design to stand out in relief.

The popular motif of waterfowl among reeds combines Korean aesthetic sensibilities and a strong interest in naturalistic imagery. Scenes of this type also appear in Chinese paintings of the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), with which the Koryō court maintained cultural and diplomatic ties.