Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Joseon White Porcelain

Although white porcelain tea sets like this one are not a common sight on this blog, they were once the most sought after pieces in Korea.

Korean white porcelain was first popularized during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and so it is often referred to as Joseon White Porcelain or as Joseon Baekja. The Joseon nobility governed the country using the principles of Confucianism. When Joseon rose to power they attempted to stamp out and repress all things synonymous with the previous rulers of Korea, the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

Under the Goryeo Dynasty, Buddhism was the state religion. At this time powdered tea, similar to the way tea was prepared in the Sung Dynasty of China, was the preferred method of enjoying tea. The Joseon Dynasty despised all things 'Buddhist' and gradually began drift away from preparing tea in this manner.
The Confucian literati played a crucial roll in popularizing the use of leaf tea in Korea. They claimed that the best way to experience tea is in a Joseon White Porcelain cup using loose leaves. They poetically praised how the white colour allows for the jade green liquor to be fully appreciated. Their influence must have been widespread because even Cho Ui, the Korean Saint of Tea, and a devout Buddhist, sings praise for Joseon white porcelain cups, in his masterpiece titled Dashinjeon, the story of the tea god (1830). He claims that cups as white as snow are best because they don't distort the colour.

It is important to note that during the Joseon Dynasty these pieces were once very difficult to produce using a wood fired kiln. The whitest pieces were the most sought after during this time. Nowadays, modern gas-fired kilns make producing this style much easier. This, in part, has lead to the relative decline in popularity for pieces like this today. If you visit a tea shop in Korea you are bound to see at least one set of Joseon white porcelain on display. It is quite common for famous Buncheong masters to try their hand at the unpretentious form and simple blue designs of Joseon Baekja.

The set pictured here is a beautiful example of this style by Kim Jeong Oak.

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