Jar (Dal Hang-ari), Korean, about 1700
Since the 10th century, Korean artists have produced white porcelain. After a long demand for celadon (pale green) ceramics, white porcelain gained popularity in the 15th and 16th centuries. The bureau (Bunwon) that oversaw the meals and court banquets of the royal family strictly controlled the kilns that produced white porcelain, employing only the finest clays and glazes for wares used to hold and serve food to the king and his court. Scholar Yi Kyu-gyong (1788-1856) once observed, “The greatest merit of white porcelain lies in its absolute purity.”
Wealthy consumers – usually royalty or nobility – prized large “moon jars” the most. The milky color and round shape have meanings on many levels. Koreans consider the full moon – with its soft glow that lights the way at night – as a gentle spirit, while white evokes the Confucian virtues of purity and modesty. Joseon-era Koreans were deeply devoted to Confucianism.
Ceramicists often created the tops and bottoms of moon jars separately, joining the two hemispherical halves at the center. This process often resulted in slight variations in shape and thickness, creating a distinctive final silhouette. Koreans understood this asymmetry not as a defect but as an expression of the imperfection of nature – indeed, the moon itself is not perfectly round.
Moon jars may originally have been used for storing food or displaying flowers.
Look for moon jars similar to the BMA’s at these museums.
Check out these resources in the Museum’s Hanson Library.
Moon Jars: The Splendor of Joseon Porcelain. Seoul: National Palace Museum of Korea, 2005.
Contemporary Korean artists continue to be inspired by the simplicity and purity of moon jars, and continue to make them with a modern twist. Watch this video to learn more.