The prosperous Goryeo dynasty that gave its name to modern-day Korea produced some of the world’s most esteemed ceramics. Preeminent among these are celadons, whose iron-rich glazes had been refined by Chinese potters to create a subtle range of gray and bluish-green hues. Under the Goryeo court, Korean craftsmen drew upon the Chinese celadon tradition to create wares of unprecedented beauty and ingenuity.
The technical refinement and stylistic naiveté of this intricately constructed bird-shaped ewer exemplify a distinctively Korean aesthetic. Whereas the creature’s plump body resembles a duck’s, its head is crowned with a cockscomb. Disproportionately small wings project out as if in flight, while the tail swoops upward to form a reticulated handle that supports a man who stands atop the bird’s back, holding a bowl. His elaborate headdress and long, flowing robe suggest that this figure represents an immortal. Details of his garments, as well as of the bird’s overlapping scales and layered feathers, were finely carved and incised into the clay body before glazing and firing; these areas appear a slightly deeper green where the glaze naturally pooled. As a final touch, dots of underglaze iron brown accent the eyes. Although wine or other liquids could be poured into the figure’s bowl and out through the bird’s smiling beak, this vessel may have been designed purely as an ingeniously whimsical work of art.