the technique of underglazing with copper-paint in order to tint the celadon
ceramic red was attained by
Goryeo potters for the first time in the world. To create such an enhancement of beauty, patterns are drawn on the
ceramic using copper-based paint before applying the glaze. After being fired at 1300˚C, the copper drawings turn
bright red through the process of oxidation. This was the most elaborate and beautiful coloring technique that had been
invented in the history of ceramic crafts. Potters from Goryeo refrained from abusing this technique, however, and only used
it minimally to accentuate the harmony of different colors within the ceramic. Chinese potters were not able to develop
the system to apply underglazing with copper-paint until the 14th century, 200 years after Goryeo ceramic craftsmen.
Gourd-shaped Celadon Ewer Underglazed with Copper Red
Goryeo, 13th Century
32.5cm in height and 16.8cm in diameter at its widest point
The abundant use of bright red copper underglazing on this
unique celadon ewer coexists perfectly with the color of blue
sky after a rainstorm during an autumn afternoon. The body
is shaped like a gourd with two lotus flowers of different sizes
on top of each other. The flower on the lower body is slightly
opened in the shape of a pond from which flower stems grow.
A boy sits on the neck holding a lotus bud in his hand dipping
his feet into the pond while a small frog is poised to jump from
the handle, exemplifying vivid evidence of the Goryeo people’s
deep love of nature and rich imagination. The veins of each petal
are delicately incised with copper-red outlines and occasional white
dots serving to further enliven the overall effect of subtle luxuriousness.
These achievements made great contributions to the development of the ceramic crafts and arts in Korea and the world.
Some critics profoundly say that they also helped Goryeo celadon ceramic art move one step closer to art’s divine function of
“purifying human minds with the power of beauty.” A great poet of the Goryeo Dynasty, Yi Gyu-bo, said that Goryeo celadon is
made “by borrowing the magical power of heaven,” while his Chinese contemporaries praised it with expressions such as,
“number one under heaven” and “extreme beauty.” Even today, many connoisseurs reveal their admiration of Goryeo celadon
works by calling them “blessings of heaven” perfected by “God’s hands.”
The production of celadon ceramic art work that gave birth to this splendid world of beauty entered a period of steady
decline paralleling the political and social turmoil during the late Goryeo Dynasty until it gradually disappeared from the
ceramics sphere in Korea, making way for a new type of earthenware: Joseon Dynasty white porcelain. Sadly, the world had
been deprived of the mysterious beauty of celadon for some 600 years until the vision of one man came to be.
Cho Ki-jung, master celadon potter, was once a student of law who dreamt of becoming a leader of the
nation’s judicial branch. His interest in ceramic crafts first began when he was a student at the Resources
Research Association, studying how Korea, a poor agricultural country, could promote economic
development by overcoming a lack of natural resources. He traveled to different parts of the country to
look for potential resources for his research. This is when he came across countless kiln sites filled
with broken pieces of ceramic art work hidden in various mountainsides. His discovery revealed that
there was something in Jeollanam province that had promoted the development of ceramic art works
yet left kilns and ceramic pieces behind. He was particularly attracted to the kilns in the town of Gangjin,
known as the home of Goryeo celadon. Fascinated with the glorious past of celadon that disappeared
into history along with the Goryeo Dynasty, Cho decided that he would revive the wonders of this lost history.
However, because celadon making techniques were not left on record and were essentially extinct, he
had to train himself in this specialized art, mainly through experimentation. He first focused on the earth from
which ceramic art work is made. He used different combinations of silica, feldspar, limestone, terra alba,
and clay (the most common elements of ceramic) in his experiments and ceramic art works.
He then combed through the mountains of Korea to look for high-quality ingredients. He fetched earth and stones
of extraordinary qualities from all across the nation. It is said that he wandered over a mountain for 15 days in search
for rocks that could be used for the iron-paint underglaze, during which he slept on dirt and ate dried breadcrumbs. His efforts were not in vain, though, and Cho was able to create an iron-painted ceramic art piece.
View the master's works