Lot 95. A rare Korean inlaid celadon meiping, Koryo dynasty, 13th-14th century. Estimate 400,000 — 600,000 HKD (45,157 - 67,735 EUR). Lot sold 437,500 HKD (49,390 EUR). Photo Sotheby's.
the tapering body rising to high round shoulders and surmounted by a short waisted neck with galleried rim, the exterior decorated in sanggam black and white inlay, depicting three lobed lozenge-shaped cartouches variously enclosing willow, floral branches and four cranes in flight, covered overall in a crackled sea-green glaze; 32.4 cm, 12 3/4 in.
Provenance: Duk Jae Chung, Korea.
Bluett & Sons Ltd, London, 1964 (£300).
Collection of Roger Pilkington (1928-69), from 1964 (£550).
Note: This maebyong (meiping in Chinese) jar represents ceramics from the fully mature Goryeo period with its characteristically pronounced ‘S’ curved profile created through its broad shoulders, attenuated body, constricted waist and flaring foot. The inlaid decoration is considered the Korean potters’ most dramatic invention, a technique that was perfected by the mid-twelfth century. While its origin is unclear, it is likely to have been inspired by earlier slip-painted pottery, silver inlaid bronzes and contemporary inlaid lacquer.
This intricate inlay process involved several steps. To achieve the black and white patterns the designs were first incised or cut into the clay after it reached a leather-hard state. The intaglio motifs were then filled in by brushing white or reddish-brown clay slips over the recessed areas and carefully shaving the surface of the ware to remove any excess slip. Although black and white were the most commonly used colours, experimental potters of the late twelfth century frequently added copper-red accents to the inlaid motifs. It is generally believed that two firings were necessary to produce inlaid celadons: an initial low-temperature biscuit firing and for the inlay process and a final high-temperature firing after the application of the glaze.
Slightly smaller vases of this form and decorated with three shaped vignettes include one, the panels each enclosing a stylised chrysanthemum spray, sold in our London rooms, 12th December 1978, lot 349; another, each enclosing weeping willows, sold at Christie’s New York, 16th October 1986, lot 54; and a third vase, depicting three shaped panels but decorated with four scenes of cranes and auspicious flowers around the body, from the Howard W. Hayes collection and now in The Newark Museum, illustrated in Robert D. Mowry, ‘Koryo Celadons’, Orientations, May 1986, p. 33, fig. 14. The vitality and freedom with which the Korean potters interpreted the ceramic medium is illustrated in the playful and carefree designs.
Compare also a maebyong vase of this form, but decorated with scenes of cranes and bamboo between ruyi-shape panels around the shoulder and lappet petals at the and foot, in the Ataka Collection, included in the exhibition The Radiance of Jade and the Clarity of Water. Korean Ceramics from the Ataka Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1991, cat. no. 15.
Included in the list of the most prized items described as ‘first under heaven’ by the 12th/13th century Chinese author Taiping Laoren, together with the books of the Academy, wines of the Palace, inkstones of Duanxi, the peonies of Luoyang, the tea of Fujian, the brocades of Sichuan, and the porcelains of Dingzhou, the celadons of the Goryeo dynasty have been held in high regard by the Korean imperial court and beyond since their creation. As in China, the quality of celadons vary widely and they would have figured prominently in many households besides those of the royal family and aristocratic court for whom the finest were reserved. Poets and scholars romanticised its distinctive colour, referring to it as the ‘secret colour’ (bi se) and comparing it to the hue of autumn skies and distant mountain peaks in its glimmering tones of bluish-green with a touch of grey.