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8.6: Goryeo Dynasty (918 CE and 1392 CE)

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    Between 918 and 1392, Goryeo (Koryo) (8.7.1) held dominion over Korea, a period marked by impressive advances in culture and art. Architecture, ceramics, printing, and papermaking all flourished during this time. However, the kingdom also experienced multiple invasions by the Mongols in the 13th century, which led to a loss of independence and increased cultural influence from their northern neighbors. It's worth noting that Koryo is the root of the modern English name for Korea.[1] The Goryeo Dynasty was first established by King Taejo and it controlled most of the Korean Peninsula. However, the dynasty had to endure multiple revolts and changes in leadership. They also faced 30 years of war with the Yuan Dynasty under the Mongols. After 1270, the Goryeo Dynasty became a semi-autonomous state under the Yuan Dynasty. They established intersecting relations through marriages. The Goryeo Dynasty continued as a dependent state until 1356. It was in this year that they finally built strong enough armies to push the Yuan and regain the northern part of the country.

    Map of Korea
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Goryeo Dynasty Map (玖巧仔, CC BY-SA 4.0)

    During the Goryeo Dynasty, which lasted from the 10th century to the 14th century in Korea, Celadon was the most widely used color in the creation of ceramics. This process was incredibly intricate and involved infusing clay with high levels of iron oxide to transform the oxygen levels within the kiln and produce a unique greenish-blue hue. The beauty and artistry of Celadon pottery were widely acclaimed and highly prized. The ceramics were characterized by elaborate incised patterns, ornamental handles, and lids embellished with intricate motifs, all of which displayed the exceptional skill and craftsmanship of the artisans who created them. The Celadon pottery was often used for utilitarian purposes, such as storage containers for food and other household items, but they were also considered valuable pieces of art that were often given as gifts to dignitaries and other important individuals.

    Korean History

    Goryeo was established in 918, and they had traded with even Europeans through Arabian merchants. Trade with Goryeo gave Korea its name to the Western world. Goryeo is famous for its Printing technology and Pottery.


    Celadon Pottery

    During the reign of the Goryeo Dynasty, an exceptional form of ceramic artistry emerged known as Goryeo Celadon. This distinctive type of ceramic was created using the ceramic-making skills of Zhejiang Province, China, which heavily influenced the design and production of Goryeo Celadon. The first Goryeo Celadon ceramics were produced between the 9th and 10th centuries, and over time, the Goryeo people improved their ceramic-making skills, resulting in the production of a particular type of Celadon known as "celadon blue" in the 12th century. The Goryeo people named this type of Celadon after its breathtaking colors and unique texture.

    In the production process of Goryeo celadon pottery, the kiln was carefully fired at temperatures of approximately 1150ºC or less, while simultaneously reducing the oxygen level within the kiln to produce a specific atmosphere. The resulting celadon pottery displays a range of intricate designs, including plain, incised, carved, mold-impressed, and inlaid patterns.[2] Additionally, these vessels are often embellished with vibrant accents of iron oxide (black or brown), copper oxide (red), and even gold.

    A variety of Celadon products were created, including everyday pots, incense burners, utensils used in ancestral rites, roof tiles, and tiles. To achieve diverse decorative effects, various techniques were employed, such as depressed engravings, raised carvings, pressed embossing, inlay, cheolbaekhwa (drawing with soil water instead of engravings), donghwa (drawing with pigments made of copper before baking pottery), underglaze inlay, openwork, and hwageumcheongja (paintings with gold dust after baking the pottery and baking it again).[3]

    The skilled potters created exquisite ceramic pieces, specifically green-glazed varieties that garnered admiration from the Chinese of that time. This particular pottery gained recognition and admiration in the Western world, famously known as celadon ware. Goryeo Celadon is notable for being the second type of ceramics produced globally, following China. It reflects the cultural heritage of the Goryeo Dynasty, highlighting the refined cultural norms and artistic flair of our forebears. The Goryeo Celadon ceramics were famous for their intricate designs of hieroglyphic animals, plants, and impeccable craftsmanship. They were highly valued not only for their beauty but also for their functionality, which made them popular among traditional Korean households. Today, Goryeo Celadon is recognized as one of Korea's most remarkable cultural heritages, and its legacy continues to inspire contemporary ceramic artists around the world.

    The Making of Longquan Celadon

    Longquan is an ancient cultural city famous for making celadon in southwest Zhejiang Province, East China. Abundant in porcelain clay and pinewood, used for baking porcelain, over 360 sites are densely distributed throughout Longquan. All these sites historically belong to the ancient Longquan Kiln, which has the longest manufacturing history, widest site distribution, highest quality, largest celadon production and export scales in China's porcelain history. There are roughly eight steps involved in making Longquan celadon, namely, throwing, trimming, biscuiting, printing, mixing glaze, glaze application, encastage,and heating. The making of celadon is not only a skill but also an art. Superior celadon is reputed to be as beautiful as jade. Famous worldwide, Longquan celadon was not only used for every dynasty's royal courts in ancient China, but has been exported to many other countries and regions of Asia, Africa and Europe since the early Song Dynasty. Modern Longquan celadon still inherite features of the traditional Longquan Kiln and many celadon products made by local masters and craftsmen have won top honors and prizes in various pottery-making competitions.

    Additional text/introduction.

    The Celadon pottery tradition in Korea was heavily influenced by Chinese art and culture, and it marked a significant departure from the gray stoneware of the preceding era. The intricate designs, the use of high-quality clay, and the unique firing process all contributed to the beauty and durability of these pieces, making them highly sought after by collectors and art enthusiasts even today. One of the finest examples of Celadon pottery from this period is the ewer (8.7.2 & 8.7.3). This particular piece is adorned with intricate patterns, and it features a decorative handle and a lid that add to its overall appeal. The skilled artists took great care and attention to detail as they painted the intricate and delicate flower stems and petals onto the clay surface. Once the painting was complete, the object was placed in the kiln to fire, where the colors would become fused into the surface, resulting in a stunning and durable piece of art. The gourd-shaped ewer (8.7.4) is a stunning piece of celadon that exudes simplicity in its design. The handle, neck, and spout are crafted with precision, emphasizing the smooth curves of the gourd shape. The Maebyeong celadon (8.7.5), with painted cranes and clouds, is depicted with great intricacy, lending a sense of delicacy and expressiveness to the overall design. The green glaze serves as a striking backdrop, giving the impression that the cranes and clouds are suspended in mid-air. 

    green tea pot with white flowers

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Wine Ewer with Chrysanthemums and Lotus Flowers (CC0 1.0)

    white flowers on a green tea pot
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Wine Ewer with Chrysanthemums and Lotus Flowers details (CC0 1.0)
    green clay pot for tea
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Ewer, celadon with inlaid decoration (IsmoonCC BY-SA 4.0)
    green vase with white cranes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Maebyŏng decorated with cranes and clouds (stoneware with inlaid decoration under celadon glaze, H. 33.7 cm; D. 19.1 cm) (public domain)


    The Goryeo Dynasty, which lasted from 918 to 1392 CE, Buddhism gained immense popularity in Korea and became an integral part of the country's cultural and artistic heritage. As a result, Buddhist art flourished during this time and produced some of the most magnificent and awe-inspiring works of art that still endure today. One of the most remarkable examples of Goryeo Buddhist art is the large silk scrolls created for state ceremonies and religious rituals. These scrolls, which were supported by the royal family, were painted on both sides of the canvas, resulting in subtle colors enhanced with gold accents and decorative elements. The technique of painting on both sides of the silk canvas also created an effect of transparency and depth, making the artwork appear even more lifelike and dynamic.

    One such scroll is the Water-moon Avalokiteshvara (8.7.6) painting, which features a seated figure on a rock with a translucent veil and robe that seem to glow with an otherworldly radiance. The use of gold accents and decorative elements to highlight the features of the figure, such as the delicate hands and serene expression, adds an ethereal quality to the painting that is both calming and mesmerizing. Another scroll that exemplifies the Goryeo Buddhist art style is the Ksitigarbha (8.7.7) painting, which portrays a bodhisattva standing on a lotus base with a halo encircling his head. The flowing robe of the bodhisattva displays multiple colors that create an effect of transparency and depth, achieved through the technique of painting on both sides of the silk canvas. The depiction of the bodhisattva as a monk, with his compassionate and serene expression, is a common theme in Goryeo Buddhist art and reflects the values of the society at that time.

    man sitting in a chair with a red robe
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara (Suwol Gwaneum bosal) (CC0 1.0)
    man in a brown robe walking
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Ksitigarbha (Copyright; author via source) 


    During the 13th century, an innovative invention was made by the Goryeo Dynasty of Korea: movable type from metal. This was the world's first successful invention of this kind, a significant achievement in the history of printing. In the year 1234, the first book in Korea was printed using this cutting-edge technology. This was a remarkable feat, which occurred several hundred years before Gutenberg developed a similar process in Europe. The metal plate, which was used for the first book, was created using this process, and it is known as plate (7.7.8) today. Although none of the original books remain, the image (7.7.9) has been recreated. The Goryeo Dynasty had strong ties with the Song Dynasty in China, and they learned the mechanics of paper making and printing from them. Then, they improved upon the methods, which helped them to create this innovative technology. The techniques used to make the plates were similar to those used for bells or coins, and bronze was used for their creation. The scholar Seong Hyeon described the process as follows:

    “At first, one cuts letters in beech wood. One fills a trough level with fine sandy [clay] of the reed-growing seashore. Wood-cut letters are pressed into the sand, then the impressions become negative and form letters [moulds]. At this step, placing one trough together with another, one pours the molten bronze down into an opening. The fluid flows in, filling these negative moulds, one by one becoming type. Lastly, one scrapes and files off the irregularities, and piles them up to be arranged.”[4]

    printing press lettering
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Movable type for Jikji  (public domain)
    script printed on a page
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Print of Jikji (public domain)

    The Tripitaka Koreana located at Janggyeong Panjeon in the Temple of Haeinsa, Korea, and contains what is described as: “the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, laws and treaties extant, engraved on approximately 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248…They are recognized by Buddhist scholars around the world for their outstanding accuracy and superior quality. The woodblocks are also valuable for the delicate carvings of the Chinese characters, so regular as to suggest that they are the work of a single hand.”[5]

    The depositories, which were constructed in the 15th century, are an architectural marvel that still stands as a testament to the ingenuity of their creators. These depositories were built with a vision to withstand the deterioration of woodblocks while ensuring convenient accessibility for additional printings. Comprising of two long buildings and two short ones surrounding a courtyard, the design is such that it allows for natural ventilation and light to enter the building, thereby maintaining a stable environment for the precious woodblocks. 

    For over five centuries, the depositories have dutifully safeguarded the 80,000 woodblocks, keeping them in pristine condition. These blocks are an integral part of the temple's rituals, and even to this day, the monks continue to employ the drum as a crucial component of their ceremonies. The pages produced from these blocks boast an exceptional quality that remains unparalleled, even 760 years after the original carving. It is fascinating to note that the woodblocks, which were carved centuries ago, are still in use, and the pages produced from them are so crisp and clear that they have no match even in modern times. The depositories' longevity is a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the artisans who built them, and the care and dedication of the monks who have preserved them for generations.

    The Tripitaka woodblocks are a magnificent and awe-inspiring collection of Buddhist writings. They are widely celebrated for their remarkable artistry, intricate carvings, and consistent quality, which speaks volumes about the dedication and expertise of the skilled craftsmen who created them. Each block is a true masterpiece, measuring over 68 centimeters in width and 24 centimeters in height and weighing a hefty 3.5 kilograms. The carvings are incredibly intricate and feature 23 lines of 14 characters per line, showcasing an unrivaled level of artistry and attention to detail. What's more, the Tripitaka woodblocks are a testament to the sheer magnitude of the collection, with a single set containing an astounding number of blocks that weigh a total of 280 tons and span nearly 60 kilometers in length. The blocks reach a height of 2.74 kilometers, making them one of the most impressive and breathtaking collections of Buddhist writings in the world. 

    It is believed by some historians that all of the blocks were crafted by the same skilled individual, underscoring the remarkable consistency and quality that characterizes the Tripitaka woodblocks. In conclusion, this collection is a true marvel of human ingenuity and craftsmanship that continues to inspire and captivate people from all walks of life. There are 52 million characters engraved onto the blocks; an individual well-versed in classical Chinese would have to spend 8 hours a day for 30 years to read through the whole set.[6] The woodblocks in the collection create an entire knowledge system that can be reproduced and distributed. “The Tripitaka is a compilation of Buddhist literature including scripture, disciplinary manuals, commentary, doxography and history; based on this collection of information a unique system of scholastic research was established.” [7]

    man removing book from a shelf
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Temple of Haeinsa repository (© OUR PLACE The World Heritage Collection)
    Haeinsa Temple 

    The Temple of Haeinsa, on Mount Gaya, is home to the Tripitaka Koreana , the most complete collection of Buddhist texts, engraved on 80,000 woodblocks between 1237 and 1248. The buildings of Janggyeong Panjeon, which date from the 15th century, were constructed to house the woodblocks, which are also revered as exceptional works of art.





    [1] Goryeo 

    [2] Goryeo Celadon

    [3] Goryeo Celadon Musuem

    [4] UNESCO

    [5] Haeinsa Temple Janggyeong Panjeon, the Depositories for the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblock 

    [6] Park, Sang-Jin. Under the Microscope: The Secrrets of the Tripitaka Koreana Woodblocks, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, p. 6. Retrieved 7 September 2018.

    [7] Ibid.

    8.6: Goryeo Dynasty (918 CE and 1392 CE) is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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