Goryeo Celadon and the Art of Tea and Wine
by CHOI MYEONGJI Associate Curator, Gwangju National Museum
Goryeo Celadon and the Art of Tea and Wine
December 13, 2021-March 30, 2022
Gwangju National Museum
Explore Exhibition

To send off 2021 and welcome 2022, the Gwangju National Museum is holding a special exhibition titled Goryeo Celadon and the Art of Tea and Wine. This exhibition featuring Goryeo celadon tea utensils and liquor vessels was organized to give a glimpse of the Goryeo people’s thoughts and sense of beauty in their encounter with new cultures. The royal family of the Goryeo Dynasty, who sought the highest beauty, built on the ceramics production technology transmitted by China and with the finest materials created Goryeo celadon. Diverse vessels were made of refined celadon whose form was elevated with beautiful color to reach a standard so high that it elicited the praise “the finest jade-green celadon under heaven.”
Although many extant tea and liquor wares made of celadon attest to the flourishing tea drinking and alcohol drinking culture of the Goryeo period, the lack of related paintings and literature has made it difficult to confirm details until recent times.
To find historical evidence for details regarding changes in tea culture according to period and the use of liquor ewers and cups in preparation for this exhibition, we referred to Chinese paintings and murals featuring tea and liquor drinking scenes, including Xiao Yi Trying to Swipe the Lanting Scroll, The Night Revels of Han Xizai, Literary Gathering, Eighteen Scholars of the Tang, and Extracting Tea, and introduced them in the exhibition along with the celadon vessels. Furthermore, we examined the situation surrounding excavation of related artifacts from Goryeo tombs and considered various integrated aspects of tea wares and liquor utensils.

Documentary materials related to tea can be found dating back to the Three Kingdoms period, and several records state that Chinese tea was brought to Korea from the Tang Dynasty and drunk at court and at Buddhist temples. In addition, utensils used to make and drink tea have been found at temple sites from the Unified Silla period to the Goryeo Dynasty. These vessels show that a change took place in the way tea was drunk.
More tea utensils were produced during the Goryeo period not only because of the flourishing tea culture created by the interest and love of tea among the aristocrats, bureaucrats, and literati; the development of celadon was an important means for growth and shared enjoyment of the tea culture. The History of Goryeo (Goryeosa) records that tea was not only considered a precious item along with medicinal herbs and incense but was also one of the gift items granted by the court and an essential ceremonial item.
The Goryeo tea culture particularly grew in the twelfth century and, coupled with advances in celadon making technology, a diverse range of celadon tea wares were made, including vessels for drinking tea and vessels for preparing tea.
Along with the tea culture, the liquor culture also developed during the Goryeo Dynasty. The court used liquor for royal ancestral rites, banquets, entertaining envoys, medicinal purposes, and as a gift bestowed by the king. Politically, liquor was also an important item in diplomatic work, and special government departments such as Yangonseo and Saonseo existed for its management.
Celadon vessels inscribed with the names of these departments were evidently used for liquor. Various records show that in addition to celadon, liquor vessels were made of other materials such as gold, silver, and glass, but most of the extant liquor vessels that were used in the royal court are made of celadon. Records about tea and alcohol can be found in Goryeo documentary materials but there is a lack of material regarding the form of the vessels used. This special exhibition was designed to help visitors understand the diverse uses of Goryeo tea and liquor vessels by deducing the shape and function of liquor vessels based on the drinking scenes depicted in Chinese paintings and murals, and examining the wide collection of celadon tea cups and stands, liquor ewers and basins, liquor bottles, and other items on display.

  • Celadon Bowl with Incised Cloud and Crane Design Goryeo Dynasty, 12th century, Height: 5.5 cm
  • Celadon Cup and Stand with Inlaid Chrysanthemum Design Goryeo Dynasty, Height: 10.6 cm

Part 1. “The Fashion of Tea and Wine in Goryeo and Chinese Export Ware”

The exhibition content is divided into the tea culture and the liquor culture. Part 1 explores the Goryeo tea and liquor utensils that were made with reference to Chinese paintings or murals from the same period and explains their usage. Paintings and videos tell the story of usage of various vessels and utensils that were newly devised as new beverages and associated customs were introduced to Korea and became widespread.

Part 2. “Goryeo Celadon: A Vessel for Culture”

This part of the exhibition explores various aspects of the tea culture at its height and the celadon tea vessels that were made at the time. It can be said that Goryeo celadon and white porcelain production started with the purpose of making bowls for drinking tea. Among the Goryeo kiln sites in Korea, traces of efforts to produce tea bowls can be found in the sedimentary layers at an early celadon kiln site in Gyeonggi-do Province. Goryeo celadon reached its technical peak in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when vessels considered the finest craftworks were made. The exhibition introduces the splendid tea culture of Goryeo through various related utensils, including tea cups and stands, ewers, stackable dishes, spittoons, tea boxes, and silver spoons.
It was arranged to examine the function of each type of utensil while the videos show a recreation of the cake tea making process and the preparation process prior to drinking tea.

  • Celadon Gourd-shaped Bottle with Inlaid Inscription of a Poem Goryeo Dynasty, Height: 38.8 cm
  • Celadon Ewer and Basin Goryeo Dynasty, Height: 27.3 cm Height (basin): 12.4 cm

Part 3. “Goryeo Celadon: A Drinking Vessel”

Part 3 examines how changes in celadon liquor vessels and liquor types according to time and situation influenced the vessels used to hold liquor. For this purpose, it brings together the ceramics inscribed with poetry from the National Museum of Korea, and through the writings on liquor bottles and cups it looks at the cultural refinements of the Goryeo people and their significance. The most beautifully made masterpieces are exhibited in a separate space in the center of the gallery, giving visitors a chance to inspect them more closely.

  • Celadon Melon-shaped Ewer Goryeo Dynasty, Height: 16.5 cm
  • Celadon Lidded Maebyeong Vase Goryeo Dynasty, Height: 25.3 cm

Part 4. “Goryeo Celadon: Burial Goods with the Dead”

Part 4 examines tea and liquor related utensils buried with the deceased in tombs. During the Goryeo Dynasty, the size of the tomb and the type of grave goods differed according to status, but among the grave goods celadon wares account for the highest number. Rare and expensive, celadon vessels were buried in the tombs of royalty and the aristocracy.
Tea and liquor related grave goods found not only in the Goryeo tombs of Gaegyeong but all over the country tell us about the people’s thoughts on tea and liquor and the significance and status of celadon during the Goryeo Dynasty.
Celadon tea and liquor utensils consist of jade-green celadon and inlaid celadon wares and are cultural heritages that reflect the culture of Goryeo royalty and the aristocratic class. The exhibition sheds light on various aspects of celadon ware, not only the color and beautiful forms of the finest Goryeo celadon but also their functional suitability as vessels for drinking tea and liquor. We anticipate that this exploration of the Goryeo tea and liquor culture will provide a deep, multi-faceted experience of the customs and history related to two major beverages that we enjoy in everyday life today.

Goryeo Celadon: Burial Goods with the Dead