Though celadon is often associated with China, the green-glazed ceramics from the Korean peninsula are some of the most precious pieces on the market.
Korean celadon ceramics, also known as Goryeo cheong-ja, are celebrated for their exquisite craftsmanship and distinctive jade-green glaze. Korean celadons were created in the Korean peninsula during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and are admired for their delicate designs, elegant forms, and unique patterns. They are considered one of Korea's greatest contributions to the world of ceramics and can be incredibly valuable at auction. Here are 5 things to know about them:
Although the art of celadon originated in China during the Song-dynasty (960–1279), Korean potters adapted and refined Chinese techniques, creating some of the most precious celadon ceramics sought after and collected by Korean, Japanese and Chinese elites alike. Many of the most treasured celadons, now housed in museums around the world, were taken from tombs and royal palaces across Asia.
The term 'celadon' indicates the typical pale jade green glaze of the ceramics, but is derived from 17th-century France. Celadon indeed has nothing to do with either the Chinese or Korean language, but refers to a shepherd named 'Celadon' in a French pastoral comedy, whose pale green robe evoked the distinctive green of the ceramics in the minds of Europeans.
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In Goryeo celadons, the grey-green hue of the glaze is owed to the presence of iron in the clay and iron oxide, manganese oxide, and quartz particles in the glaze. Chinese celadons were fired in brick kilns, but Korean artisans opted for traditional mud kilns, firing the ceramics at around 1000ºC, and reducing the oxygen to prevent oxidising, thus giving the pots a brilliant and uniform pale green. The changes in oxygen flow in the brick kilns of Chinese celadons gave them a warmer olive-green glaze, and with time, the brighter glaze of the Korean celadons became the gold standard.
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The most prized Korean celadons are inlaid through the delicate technique of sanggam, which involves etching the motifs on the dry clay vessel and filling the incisions with either black or white slip. The result is vibrant designs in white, black and green.
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The inlaid patterns in Korean celadons are varied but are most often inspired by nature. They usually represent flowers, birds, or clouds, particularly lotuses, peonies, waterfowls, cranes and parrots.
At auction, Korean celadons can go for as low as a few hundred pounds for a poorly preserved bowl to upwards of six figures for the most rare specimens. The quality of details in the inlay and the uniformity of the colour of the glaze greatly affect the price, and the estimates also depend on the shape of the ceramic – bowls are quite common and therefore not as unique and sought after, while one-of-a-kind pieces such as sculpted incense burners or water droppers may command higher estimates.