White porcelain; H. 1 5/8 in. (4.1 cm), Diam. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1917 (17.175.1)
White-bodied porcelain wares (baekja) were first produced in Korea at the beginning of the Joseon dynasty, in the first half of the fifteenth century, and continued to be popular thoughout the dynasty. The early phase of porcelain manufacture is characterized by undecorated white wares. These wares reflect the austere tastes associated with Neo-Confucianism, which was embraced by the Joseon rulers as the official state ideology and advocated by the preeminent social class, the yangban. The yangban, who held the highest civil and military positions in government, devoted themselves to study and self-cultivation in the Confucian tradition and sought to fashion a political and social system based on Confucian ideals, principles, and practices. Of paramount importance in yangban society were the strict rules governing ancestral worship and mourning rites.
Associated with purity, white porcelain was considered especially suitable for objects used by the court and yangban households, in particular, ritual dishes and containers such as this small double-handled cup. Cups of this kind were used for offering wine on special occasions, such as memorial ceremonies performed at an ancestral altar. The cup would have been held with both hands, as is the custom in East Asian ritual and formal settings.
White porcelaneous wares were produced during the Goryeo dynasty (9181392) around the same time as celadon wares, but never achieved widespread popularity. Because of their often insufficient firing temperature, which can leave the clay and glaze incompletely vitrified, they are technically excluded from the category of true porcelains.