Gangjin Celadon Festival in Jeollanam-do Province is one of Korea’s best festivals!
Annually countless numbers of visitors come to the festival, where the past and present comingle.
“The Flowers of Luoyang, Tea of Jianzhou, Silk of Shu, Porcelain of Dingyao,
Lacquerware of Zhejiang, Paper of Wu…
Green Celadon of Goryeo…
They are all the best under heaven and no matter how others try to copy them, it is impossible to do so.“
- Song Dynasty writer Taiping Laoren’s ‘Best under heaven’ line from“Xiuzhongjin” (Brocaded Sleeve)
Even in China, where Celadon originated, Goryeo Celadon was prized as the best in the world. Let’s discover it now..
What Was the Secret Behind the Making of Goryeo Celadon, the Best Celadon in the World?
The production of Celadon was only possible in China and the Goryeo kingdom at the time.
The Celadon manufacturing technique is so difficult and precise that only China and Goryeo were capable of it.
“China and Goryeo, which could make Celadon, both had a sound understanding of soil characteristics. Only soil that contains a certain amount of ferric oxides can be used to create Celadon. In addition to this, the master craftsmen knew very well how to regulate the firing temperature.”
Cho Eun-jeong / Curator, Goryeo Celadon Museum
The jade green color of Goryeo Celadon was highly rated by China
However, the Goryeo Celadon was made with an advanced technique that even China rated highly. It was the glaze that created its jade green color.
“The people of Goryeo call the color of their Celadon, bisaek.”
- "Xuanhe Commissioner's Illustrated Account of Goryeo" (1123)
by Xu Jing
The distinctive color of Goryeo Celadon was called bisaek, meaning the color of jade.
“Blue ceramic glass cups
were fired but only one out of ten was kept.
To get such an eminent bluish jade color,
how many times did it pass through the smoke?"
- Volume 8 of "Collected Works of Minister Yi of Korea" by Yi Gyu-bo (1168–1241)
Yi Gyu-bo, a Goryeo era writer, described in one poem how difficult it was to produce a fine piece of Celadon and the beauty of its blue-green hue.
In ways such as this, the technique that produced the beautiful color of the Goryeo Celadon was widely praised.
The inlaying technique used on Celadon was developed independently by Goryeo
There is another special feature that only Goryeo Celadon possessed!
Yes, its inlaying technique.
A technique whereby patterns are incised on the surface of the soft Celadon and the patterned incisions are then filled with white clay and kaolin .
The Goryeo inlaying technique utilized special tools to engrave on the surface of the ware, and then used white clay and red kaolin to fill in the incisions.
It was an advanced technique that created vivid and realistic patterns.
Characteristic unique to Goryeo Celadon
Vivid rendering of animal and plant patterns
Goryeo Celadon is also unique in that it utilized animal and plant motifs in its shapes and patterns, which set it apart from Chinese Celadon.
The cloud and crane design, often featured on Goryeo Celadon, is a unique design of Goryeo Celadon and which reveals lyrical beauty and artisanship.
The design reflected the Taoist inclinations that existed in the Goryeo period.
Buddhist and Taoist ideas, which formed the spiritual core of Goryeo, were reflected on its Celadon, creating a unique form of beauty.
A treasure ship was discovered off the coast of Taean in Korea in 2007!
On this ship, which sank in the Goryeo period, were over 23,000 pieces of Goryeo Celadon.
2009 Taean Mado Ship No. 1 - around 300 pieces of Goryeo Celadon excavated
2010 Taean Mado Ship No. 2 - around 180 pieces of Goryeo Celadon excavated, including 2 Celadon prunus vases
2011 Taean Mado Ship No. 3 - around 180 pieces of Goryeo Celadon excavated
A countless number of Goryeo Celadon pieces were discovered off the coast of Taean.
Most of them were pieces produced in Gangjin, Jeollanam-do Province and locations further inland.
How did these artifacts end up off the coast of Taean?
Why Was Goryeo Celadon at Sea?
One of the most important ingredients Celadon production is soil.
The Western Sea and Southern Sea coasts of Korea had soil perfectly suited for the manufacture of Goryeo Celadon.
Goryeo Celadon produced in Gangjin, Jeollanam-do Province and Buan, Jeollabuk-do Province was of excellent quality and was mostly used by the Royal Family.
Gangjin was where Korea’s largest Celadon kiln sites were located, and these kilns were in operation for a long time from the early to late Goryeo period.
During the Goryeo Dynasty, various crops and special products from each region were collected as taxes and delivered to Gaegyeong, the Goryeo capital. Goryeo Celadon was one of these tax items. However, it took too long to transport it by land, and transportation itself was difficult.
Tribute granary: storage facility built to keep and transport goods collected as taxes
Thirteen tribute granaries were built along the shore, and ships were used to transport goods from each region to the capital at Gaegyeong.
The Western Sea has rapid tidal currents and a large tidal range, so ships often ran aground or sank off the coast.
This is why so many Goryeo Celadon pieces were discovered off the coast of Taean.
Wooden tablet (or mokgan): used to keep written records in an era when paper did not exist
Wooden tablets that shed light on the era and the distribution process were also found on the sunken vessels.
The wooden tablets provide detailed information, such as the place of production, destination, consignee, and the number of items.
From the sunken ships, we also discovered how Goryeo Celadon was transported.
High-quality Goryeo Celadon pieces were stored inside large jars lined with straw while 30–40 lower-quality pieces were stacked together and secured with straw ropes.
The Goryeo Celadon Prunus Vase from Mado Ship No. 2 even had a freight tag made of bamboo.
The tags all show the name of Officer Oh Mun-bu, who belonged to the Jungbang Council in Gaegyeong.
It showed that honey and sesame oil were stored in prunus vases and were being sent to the home of Oh Mun-bu.
Until now it was believed that prunus vases were only used to store alcohol or water, but from such records, a valuable historical fact was revealed that they were used to store and transport precious foodstuffs, such as honey and sesame oil.
In addition to bowls, there were other daily-use items as well as high-end items and tiles to decorate the floors and walls.
The shapes and types of Goryeo Celadon items were diverse and extravagant.
Although it originated in China, Goryeo Celadon developed into a unique artifact with its exceptional Celadon glazing technique, mysterious jade color and distinctive patterns! This is why Goryeo Celadon is considered to be the best in the world.
Must-Know Facts on Culture and Art in Korean History
1. Goryeo Celadon was praised as the best in the world even in China, the place where Celadon originated.
2. The unique blue-green color of Goryeo Celadon was called bisaek, meaning the color of jade.
3. The unique patterns seen only on Goryeo Celadon were created using the inlaying technique
4. Goryeo Celadon from each region was transported to Gaegyeong via the Western Sea.