|Hammering begins on a round metal block, which is cooling down after being poured out of a melting pot. After
several thousand beats of the hammer, the metal lump finally takes the form of a bowl. As soon as the
alloy of copper and tin passes through the door of secrets by the long process of forging, the
vessel begins to exhibit its beauty that manifests the glorious brilliance of gold.
Bronzeware has been made in Korea since the Bronze Age. During the period of Unified
Silla (668-935), the Cheoryujeon (Office of Iron and Bronze), a government unit in charge
of bronzeware production, was established; however, it was in the Goryeo Period (918-1392),
that the Korean people developed the art of bronzeware making to a very high level, producing
all kinds of kitchenware for use by the ruling class, Buddhist objects and musical instruments.
Artisans of Silla and Goryeo were able to produce high-quality copper alloys and exported them to
neighboring countries under the names Silladong ('Silla Copper') and Goryeodong ('Goryeo Copper').
The remaining relics of the time vividly display their outstanding ability to make exceptional-quality alloys,
bronzeware and bronze art works.
Gilt-bronze Incense Burner of Baekje
Baekje, 6th century
64cm in height, 19cm in diameter (body)
Consisting of a base, body and lid, this magnificent Baekje incense
burner exhibits a perfect form luxuriously decorated with figures symbolizing
the dream, an ideal and eternal world of Baekje people. The top of
the lid displays the dynamic figure of a phoenix holding a magic pearl in
her bosom, ready to fly with open wings and a raised tail. The lower part of
the lid captures five musicians residing in the remotest part of the mountains;
creatures with a human face and a body belonging to birds and
beasts; and animals of both the real and imaginary world including tigers
and deer in a landscape filled with rocks, roads, streams, waterfalls and
lakes, offering a spectacular panoramic view of the imaginary world
where Taoist hermits were believed to reside. The body carved in the
shape of an open lotus blossom also exhibits a dramatic spectacle of
human and animal figures. The base, which has a circular form made by
the legs and tail of a dragon biting the lower part of the main body’s lotus
blossom, gives remarkable stability to the entire work. Captured in the
vitalized motion of soaring into the sky with raised head and leg, and
curled body, the dragon looks as if it is supporting the whole universe.
Bangjja yugi, or 'forged bronzeware,' is a term referring to the bronze utensils made by hammering heated copper
alloy into shapes. In fact, the bronze items made in this way are only known to exist in Korea, where the art was used
for making the highest-quality kitchen utensils of the royal households and aristocratic families. A piece of bangjja
yugi ware demonstrates the remarkable feature of changing color if it touches poisonous substances, such as
chemicals, in food; thus, it keeps food fresh for a long period of time and kills harmful bacteria that causes food
poisoning. The amazing capacity of this utensil has even been proved by a recent scientific test.
Korean bronzeware is generally classified into three categories: jumul
('cast'), bangjja ('forged'), and ban-bangjja ('semi-forged') ware,
according to the methods of production. Items belonging to the
first category, jumul yugi, are made by a relatively simple, and
the most commonly performed, process of pouring hot copper
alloy into a cast or mold. Articles of the second category, bangjja
yugi, are made through a hard, time-consuming procedure in
which the artisan needs to hammer a lump of heated metal
innumerable times to turn it into a pre-conceived form. The works
of this type are regarded as the best of all bronzeware. The third type,
ban-bangjja yugi, is made by combining the two methods above.
During the Joseon Period (1392-1910), the government operated bronzeware workshops in both the capital and the
provinces, helping to distribute bronze items used daily in kitchens all across the country along with ceramic ware.
The use of bronzeware, however, became drastically reduced in modern times as stainless steel and plastic wares
appeared. But there has been one man, Yugijang ('Master Yugi Artisan) Yi Bong-ju (born in the North Korean town of
Napcheong, home of bangjja yugi) who has been committed to reviving the beauty of traditional bronzeware on
dining tables today.
View the master's works