March 7, 2015

At the Met: The Grace of Korean Ceramics

Brush holder with lotus decoration, mid 19th century; porcelain with openwork design, 5 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there's a gallery––#233––in the Asian wing dedicated to Korean art. I often stop in there on my visits to the museum because there are always beautiful objects on display. There is currently an exhibition there celebrating "Korea: 100 Years of Collecting at the Met", which contains many wonderful things, all of which you can see at the exhibition link. What most pleases my eye, as is often the case in this room, are the elegant and graceful ceramics, often with a celadon glaze; their color and shape, their sensitive delineation of natural forms, are refined and have a sense of perfection. It is a warm perfection, one that elicits a longing for beauty.

Gourd-shaped Ewer with decoration of waterfowl and reeds, early 12th century; stoneware with carved and incised design under celadon glaze, 10 1/2 x 7 7/8 in. 

This ewer has marvelous curves and fanciful little squiggles at the top of the lid and handle. When I see a piece like this I can't help but wonder what it feels like to lift it, to pour a liquid from it, to run my hands over its curves. My sensuous experience has to be limited to sight. A you can see from the date of this ewer....

Bowl with foliate rim and peony decoration, first half of 12th century; stoneware with mold-impressed and incised design under celadon glaze;, 2 1/4 x 7 5/8 in. 

....and of this elegantly incised dish.....

Melon-shaped ewer with decoration of bamboo, first half 12th century; stoneware with carved and incised design under celadon glaze, 8 1/2 in. 

.....and this inventively decorated piece, these three works are ancient. As I learned from this brief essay on the Met's website, they were made during the Goryeo dynasty (918-1392). The artisans learned much about celadon technique from China. The color comes from "the raw materials from which it was made––iron in the clay and iron oxide, manganese oxide, and quartz particles in the glaze––and to the reduction atmosphere created at a certain stage of firing by dramatically reducing the level of oxygen inside the kiln." For me the color is more than a reference to the natural world, the greens of the plant world; there is quality of innate light, of calm pleasures.

Dish, second half of 15th century; porcelain, 1/2 x 8 7/16 in.
Bottle, first half 19th century; porcelain, 13 15/16 x 8 1/4 in.

Two very simple pieces, made hundreds of years apart, both showing how attention to the flowing movement of a curve can make an object that is wonderfully satisfying.

Moon Jar, second half of 18th century; porcelain, 15 1/4 x 13 in. 

The fullness of this irregular jar, named Moon Jar ––dalhangari––because of its shape...and I think of the full moon just passed hanging round and white in the sky, with reds on it as it rises.

Jar with decoration of flowers and insects, mid 18th century; porcelain with underglaze cobalt-blue design, 13 1/2 x 11 3/8 in. 

Fresh and delicate drawings enliven the surface of this jar, with insects flitting about and the flowers and leaves floating in a breeze.

Square bottle, first half of 19th century; porcelain, 7 x 4 1/4 x 4 3/8 in.

Amidst all the curves, it is a nice surprise to come across this rectangular form, simple and clean; perhaps it alludes to architecture or furniture. The slight curves of the neck play off nicely against the square sides. It is a very lovely thing.

Kashyapa, 1700; wood with polychrome paint, 22 x 9 in. 

Finally, I bit of joy to end: a small sculpture of Kashyape, "the eldest of the two principle disciples of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni." His visage and gesture are full of peace and calm and loving-kindness; what perfect feelings to be conveyed by a work of art.


  1. ♫"Love the One You're With"♫ comes to mind.
    I rush to fondle a pieced of my pottery...

  2. Oh, yes, a wabi sabi chawan from the Erin pottery in England. Delicious.
    I understand your desire to touch those things.
    You know, sometimes we forget. I had taken my children to see the Liberty Bell, and, like pottery, you know it won't ring if it's cracked, so rapped it several times with my knuckles so the kids could hear it's sad rattle. The guard and I looked at each other with equal surprise. He just shook his head and smiled...

    1. I'm glad the guard didn't give you a talking-to. I remember, years and years ago, seeing a Michelangelo sculpture in Italy (can't even remember where or which piece it was) and reaching out my hand to touch it; it was totally instinctive, I hadn't thought about it. The guard tut-tutted me and my hand came back.

  3. So very beautiful, Altoon. I loved looking....and reading!