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Goryeo celadons awakened from 800-year slumber

Back in 2010, two pieces of Korean celadon, a maebyeong inlaid and a maebyeong incised, were discovered in good condition on the island of Mado in Taean County, Chungcheongnam-do (South Chungcheong Province).

Discovered on a sunken vessel from the Goryeo Dynasty (918~1392), the two pieces, both 39 centimeters long, were a splendid mix of clean form, elegant design and broad sloping lines that formed a wide, rounded body.

The bamboo tag (right) attached to the maebyeong inlaid celadon says the sesame oil-containing celadon was presented to Oh Moon-bu, a junior official of Jungbang.

The bamboo tag (right) attached to the maebyeong inlaid celadon says the sesame oil-containing celadon was presented to Oh Moon-bu, a junior official of Jungbang (photo courtesy of the National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage).


A jukchal, or a wooden tag, was attached to the pottery with an unknown name written in characters from the Goryeo Dynasty. The item was identified as a container for liquids such as honey and sesame oil.

Image of the celadon maebyeong incised that contained honey when discovered.

Image of the celadon maebyeong incised that contained honey when discovered (photo courtesy of the National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage).

The two celadon pieces were presented to Oh Moon-bu, a junior officer of Jungbang, the top administrative body of the Goryeo Dynasty, according to the wooden tag. The vessel loaded with regional specialties from Jeongeup, Jeollabuk-do (North Jeolla Province) and Yeonggwang, Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla Province), was known to have wrecked and sank in the middle of the sea near Mado on its way to Gaegyeong, then the capital of Goryeo. When first found, the celadon with an intaglio print had honey in it, while the inland one contained sesame oil.

The new discoveries on Mado changed the long-standing perception that old pottery were used mainly to hold alcoholic beverages, and added the new knowledge that it had also stored foodstuffs. Also, the pottery called “maebyeong” today went by the name “Jun” in Jukchal.

The historical and cultural value of maebyeong found on the sunken vessel was highly appraised, and the item was designated a national treasure in December 2012.

Korean celadon will take center stage again this year in Mokpo, Jeollanam-do (South Jeolla Province), in an exhibition slated to open June 18 called “Fragrant Vases Beautiful Maebyeong and Useful Jun,” according to National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage under the Cultural Heritage Administration.

Poster of the exhibition "Fragrang Vases Beautiful Maebyeong and Useful Jun" (photo courtesy of the National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage).

Poster of the exhibition "Fragrant Vases Beautiful Maebyeong and Useful Jun" (photo courtesy of the National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage).


To run through August 4, the exhibition is the first to give the spotlight to maebyeong. Along with the vases, four national treasures as well as 50 additional pieces of related cultural relics will be on display.

By Wi Tack-whan, Lee Seung-ah
Korea.net Staff Writers
whan23@korea.kr

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