The Royal Ceramics of Goryeo Dynasty


The Royal Ceramics of Goryeo Dynasty

Lobed Bottle, Celadon, H. 22.7cm, D. 8.4cm (mouth),
D 7.4cm (bottom), Goryeo Dynasty (12th century),
National Treasure No. 94
The National Museum of Korea (NMK) has pursued communication transcending time and space between traditional Korean culture and modern audiences through its exhibition encompassing a variety of subjects. This exhibition on royal ceramics of the Goryeo Dynasty displays together for the first time ceramic unearthed from royal tombs and other royal sites of the Goryeo Dynasty, which controlled most of the Korean peninsula during 918 - 1392 A.D.
The melon-shaped celadon bottle was excavated from Gangrening, the royal tomb attributed to King Injong, the 17th king of the Goryeo Dynasty. This piece of celadon is National Treasure No. 94 and is shrouded in regal dignity, showing us what Goryeo royal ceramics must have been like. Significant information shaping our understanding of Goryeo royal ceramics comes also from ceramics uncovered in Jireung (tomb of King Myeongjong, 1131 - 1202), Agreeing (tomb of Queen Sungyeong, wife of King Wonjong and mother of King Chungnyeol, ? - 1239), as well as from ceramics unearthed at Goryeo palace sites and the site of Hyeeumwon, a royal resort.
The exhibition will focus on the wide-ranging culture assets excavated along with the epitaph of King Injong. They are valuable resources for socio-cultural research on the first half of the 12th century. The epitaph of King Injong is a record comprising 41 jade sticks on which praises for the achievements of the king are written, and it is especially meaningful as its year of production is known: 1146, the 24th year of the king’s reign.
A range of ceramics and other cultural assets unearthed from palaces and other royal sites, as well as from kilns that produced ceramics for the royal court, evince the essence of Goryeo culture as they were made by the best ceramists. The Goryeo royal family preferred splendid ceramics but with dignity, decorum, and a beauty of temperance.

Goryeo Royal Ceramics and Their Styles

Brush Stand, Celadon with Openwork Lotus Scroll Design
and Dragon-Head-shaped Ornament
, Celadon,
H. 9.0cm, Goryeo Dynasty (12th century)
Ceramics excavated from royal tomb, palace sites, temples and ruins related to royalty shed light on the royal family’s style preferences. The royal tombs of Goryeo kings have rarely been officially surveyed, and most of them fell victim to grave robbery during the Japanese occupation.
Ceramics from kings’ tombs including Jangneung of King Injong (the 17th king), Jireung of King Myeongjong (the 19th king), and Seongneung of King Huijong (the 21st king), and from queens’ tombs such as Golleung of Queen Wondeok (the wife of the 22nd king Gangjong) and Gareung of Queen Sungyeong (the wife of the 24th king Wonjong) not only provide valuable chronological details but also attest to the quintessential culture of Goryeo ceramics.
Although the Goryeo palace sites are today no more than ruins, ceramics unearthed from these sites give us much more than a glimpse of Goryeo royal ceramics. In particular, the celadon bottle with inlaid monkey design painted in gold bespeaks of the royal family’s taste for splendorous ceramics.
High quality ceramics were also excavated from the site of Hyeeumwon, a royal resort. This national accommodation institution was built in 1122 and was in operation until the early 13th century. In addition to high quality celadon, numerous pieces of Chinese ceramics were found at the site, vividly showing the wide range of ceramics used by the royal family.

Goryeo Royal Kilns in Gangjin and Buan

Representative production sites of ceramics for the Goryeo royal court are located in Gangjin-gun, South Jeolla Province and Buan-gun, North Jeolla Province.
Sinjeung Dongguk Yeoji Seungnam, or the Newly Verified Geographical Survey of the Eastern Kingdom, written in 1530 during the Joseon Dynasty, states that Daeguso and Chillyangso (currently in the two adjacent towns of Daegu-myeon and Chillyang-myeon, Gangjin-gun, South Jeolla Province) were kilns of the Goryeo Dynasty, and it indicates that ceramics from Gangjin were offered up as tribute to the royal family and the national government. The kilns in Gangjin were first surveyed by the museum of the Japanese Government-General in 1928. The National Museum of Korea later survey the village of Dangjeon, Sadang-ri, Daegu-myeon, Gangjin-gun from 1964 through 1977. Celadon shards of the same quality as of the melon-shaped bottle from tomb attributed to King Injong and other celadon fragments bearing engraved letters about the royal family were discovered, proving that the village was a primary kiln for the Goryeo royal court.
Buan-gun, North Jeolla Province, was a production area of the best ceramics during the Goryeo Dynasty, as was Gangjin-gun. Kilns in Buan were first discovered in 1929 by a Japanese scholar. In 1966, the National Museum of Korea investigated the sedimentary layers of the waste field of the kiln in Yucheon-ri, Boan-myeon, Buan-gun. Mr. Lee Hong-kun(Byname of Dongwon) granted a considerable number of ceramic shards from the Yucheon-ri kiln site to the National Museum of Korea. Ceramics from Buan-gun are similar to those excavated from Jireung (tomb of King Huijong), and the site of Hyeeumwon (a royal resort in Paju), indicating that royal ceramics were also produced in Buan during the Goryeo Dynasty.

National Museum of Korea, The Royal Ceramics of Goryeo Dynasty, Seoul: Tongcheon, 2008.

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