Goryeo dynasty ewers often derived their shapes from natural forms such as melons or double gourds. This ewer, however, takes its shape from a metal prototype, judging from the cylindrical body, the sharp angled flat shoulder, and the looping flat handle accented with a crisp outline. Its lid, which is in the form of a double lotus and has a jewel on the top, makes an effective contrast to the simple unadorned body. The glaze covers the bottom of the base and the foot is carefully wiped. The traces of three spur marks can be spotted under the glaze at the bottom. The gray-blue glaze is thin, transparent, and lustrous.
The beauty of this refined form and exquisite glaze exemplifies the highest aesthetic quality demanded by the court and the aristocracy. Celadon works such as this piece prompted the young Chinese official Xu Jing (1091-1153), who came with the Chinese embassy to Korea in 1123 from the court of Huizong emperor (r. 1101-1125), to compare Goryeo celadon to Chinese imperial ru wares that were produced in China at the time as well as the “secret color” of earlier Chinese yue wares. In a later time the outstanding beauty of Goryeo celadon made another Chinese writer, whose pen name was Taiping Laoren, to include them among the objects he considered the “first under heaven.”
Letters from the Thai alphabet are loosely pinned together to form an outline of the Buddha. These letters, cut from industrial mesh, form Buddhist sayings that Jakkai Siributr, a practicing Buddhist, chants daily. Amulets depicting the Buddha, respected monks, and kings hang from the text. Amulets are charms blessed by monks and given to worshippers at temples, often worn on the body as a reminder of the Buddha’s teachings. As Jakkai has observed in Thailand, amulets blessed by monks believed to possess magic powers have become talismans that are being worshipped by people so that good fortune, prosperity, and safety will come their way. Jakkai views the use of amulets for luck and instant gratification as a perversion of their intended function as inspiration to devotees. He notes that the absent Buddha, present only in outline, represents the disappearance of Buddhism’s true principles.
Jakkai Siributr works primarily in the textile medium. His fascination with textiles and embroidery began as a child in Bangkok, and he went on to study textile design in college and graduate school in the United States before returning to live and work in Thailand. His meticulously handmade tapestry and installation works make statements about religious, social, and political issues in contemporary Thailand. His art is preoccupied with the interaction of Buddhism and materialism in modern life and with the everyday popular culture of Thailand.
The “flower robe” was a wedding robe worn by brides at the court and in the gentry class during the Joseon dynasty. This one was made by a contemporary textile artist in the traditional style of red silk with blue lining, colors that symbolize yin and yang, feminine and masculine, and light and dark in East Asian cosmology. It is embroidered with auspicious motifs of flora and fauna, including lotus and peony. The lotus symbolizes purity, rebirth, longevity, and good fortune, and the peony represents wealth and honor, while two birds allude to conjugal bliss. A bird with chicks symbolizes many offspring. The embroidered phrase on the back of the robe reads: “The union of two families is the root of myriad happiness.”
Marlik, in northern Iran, is a particularly important site. Located between the Caspian Sea and Elburz mountains, the area benefited from a warm climate with wooded forests and dense vegetation favorable to civilization. Tomb excavations at the site of Marlik yielded fascinating reddish and gray hollow pottery figurines in the shapes of humans and animals with spouts. This reddish-brown stag’s head forms a spout, which was probably used for pouring rather than drinking. Its stocky, full shape with a wide back and four stubby legs would have made it easy to handle. The earthenware was burnished, which means that it was rubbed while damp with a spoon-like tool before firing. This process makes it smooth to the touch.
Wares such as this one are often called “Amlash” after a small Caspian Sea village in southeastern Gilan province. Amlash has been a point of entry for the international antiquities market and has been used to describe unprovenanced antiquities, whether from Gilan province or not.
This small box has traits in common with famous large boxes from the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392); those earlier boxes were made to store handwritten and printed Buddhist sutras (sacred texts). Like the Goryeo boxes, this one is rectangular and has a beveled lid. The principal decorated area—whose primary motif consists of simplified lotus flowers constructed of large pieces of mother-of-pearl—is surrounded by bands of jewels. This box’s style and design reflect the taste of the ruling gentry during the first half of the Joseon dynasty, as they valued the Confucian virtues of simplicity and restraint.
Once upon a time long, long ago when the tiger smoked a pipe… This familiar phrase, used at the beginning of Korean children’s stories, is represented literally on this jar in underglaze cobalt. The tiger-and-magpie theme is a popular motif in Korean folk painting. In the past, Koreans believed that tigers embodied the spirit of mountains and possessed the power to ward off all evil and harm, and that magpieswere harbingers of good news. Porcelain wares with underglaze-cobalt decoration began to be produced in Korea during the fifteenth century, with imported cobalt from West Asia through China.
A cheetah stands with regal poise, its paw resting on the mane of a noble steed, who lifts his hoof high and bows his head on this extraordinary dish. Cheetahs were used in Iran and India in much the same way as dogs for hunting game. Persian ceramics often depict hunters and their hunting cheetahs and horses. The fact that the hunter is missing on this dish is not important since the combination of the cheetah and horse effectively symbolize the hunt. The upside-down creature under the horse is perhaps the prey. The expressive enthusiasm and extraordinary attention to detail on this dish set it apart from other polychrome buffwares of the tenth century. Vegetal motifs in relief transform the black horse into a fantastic creature that is decorated all the way down to its hooves. Although there are losses in the area of the cheetah, its colorful patterning can be discerned. The cheetah is related to fantastic creatures depicted in ancient Persian ceramics and metalwork that combine different animal attributes. The rest of the dish’s interior is filled with familiar decorative motifs from the repertoire of the buffware potter: abstract geometric, floral, and vegetal motifs, as well as decorative motifs that resemble kufic-style Arabic script. Two dotted borders along the wall and on the rim of the dish frame the highly original composition. This large dish would have been sold as a luxury item and was not intended for everyday use.
“Bojagi” is a general term for all wrapping cloths in Korea. Most bojagi were made with specific people and functions in mind, like when mothers crafted bojagi for their daughters before weddings. Bojagi were viewed more as craft pieces than artwork, and it is only in recent decades that the aesthetic value of bojagi was rediscovered. By sewing together small, used cloth of various shapes and skillfully juxtaposing vibrant colors, the unknown makers of these bojagi created an exciting design akin to modern abstract art.
Depending on its function, design, structure, and user, bojagi can have other names. For example, bojagi made for covering a table is called “sang bo” (“sang” means table, and “bo” is an abbreviation of bojagi). Because the bojagi on display are patchworks of cloth remnants, they are “jogak bo” (“jogak” means small pieces). Different names apply to various patchwork designs, as well as suggest those meant for royalty and for ordinary people.
Jeong Tae-o’s eight-panel screen shows plum trees with blossoming flowers. Each panel contains an independent composition in which an old tree trunk has produced slender new branches with delicate blossoms. Only the second panel shows slender branches jutting out in the opposite direction. Plum blossoms sprout on fresh thin branches that have grown from the older branches. Jeong Tae-o (active 1800s), whose pen name was U-eum and who was also known as Jeong Tae-gyu, was famous for his plum paintings.
The blossoming plum is traditionally associated with other plants in symbolic combinations: the grouping known as the Three Friends of Winter (Sehan samu) consists of the blossoming plum, the pine, and bamboo; and the Four Virtuous Gentlemen (Sagunja) group consists of the blossoming plum, orchids, chrysanthemums, and bamboo. Because plum flowers blossom even before the snow melts, they are thought of as harbingers of happy times.
The large birds and stylized rosettes resembling lollipops on this deep bowl exemplify one of the most endearing types of slipware produced in Iran throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Called “Sari ware” after the town just south of the Caspian Sea where many similar examples were found, these ceramics follow earlier techniques of production and decoration. The motif of a parrot or hawk attacking another bird is typical of the decoration found on such bowls. The characteristic white dots punctuating the large bird’s eye and the feathers in this bowl are not new, although they are combined in an innovative and dynamic way, showing that late provincial production for local consumption could remain vibrant.