Natural and Unassuming Elegance - Traditional Korean Pottery

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The history of Korean pottery begins with raised-pattern (yunggimun) earthenware, dating as far back as 8,000 BCE. Some time later, comb-pattern (jeulmun) earthenware appears. As humans begin practicing agriculture, undecorated (mumun) earthenware emerged. This style was in use until the time of Gojoseon and Jin. During the Three Kingdoms period, earthenware and grey stoneware was common. Crude forms of green celadon and white porcelain began to be produced during the Unified Silla period. However, it was during the Goryeo period that Korean ceramics reached a level of excellence recognized across Asia. Goryeo celadon, renowned for its high quality and transparent jade glaze, flourished from the early 12th century until the Mongol invasions in 1231. It was during this period that a celadon inlay technique called sanggam was invented in Korea. At the beginning of the Joseon period, a genre of celadon unique to Korea called buncheong ware became common. By the late 16th century, white porcelain began to surpass buncheong ware in popularity, and the Japanese invasions of 1592 and 1598 led to the end of buncheong production.

The foundation of Korean ceramic technology and design came from China. However, differences in raw materials and artistic sensibility led to the development of native Korean techniques, colors, shapes, and genres. The Korean aesthetic of uncontrived, unassuming beauty with natural shapes and colors can be seen across all periods, though Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism influenced aesthetic trends in the Goryeo and Joseon periods respectively. Buncheong ware has been described as free-spirited and earthy, in comparison to the intricate, spiritual aesthetic of Goryeo celadon and the pure, scholarly aesthetic of Joseon white porcelain.

Unlike the Chinese or Japanese, Koreans favored understated color schemes, using almost exclusively white, black, blue, green, and reddish-brown hues. Shapes also emphasized naturalness over perfection, with intentional asymmetricity. This can be seen in the large white porcelain moon jars of the later Joseon period, a form unique to Korea.

A variety of techniques were used to create decorative motifs on the ceramics, including sanggam, stamp, sgraffito, and underglaze (with copper or iron). Sanggam involves incising a design into the dried grey clay body and filling the carved spaces with white or black clay before glazing the piece and firing it. Buncheong ware was made by covering the grey clay body with a thin layer of white clay, before motifs were added.

Related Articles


  • Academy of Korean Studies. 2010. Cultural Landscapes of Korea. Academy of Korean Studies Press.
  • Korea Foundation. 2012 Korean Ceramics: The Beauty of Natural Forms. Seoul Selection.
  • Soyoung Lee. 2003. "Joseon Buncheong Ware: Between Celadon and Porcelain." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.
  • Lee, Soyoung. 2003. “Goryeo Celadon.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.
  • Lee, Soyoung. 2004. "In Pursuit of White: Porcelain in the Joseon Dynasty, 1392–1910.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.