Bowl decorated with peony leaves and chrysanthemum

Period: Joseon dynasty (1392–1910)

Date: 15th century

Culture: Korea

Medium: Buncheong ware with sgraffito and stamped design

Dimensions: H. 2 7/8 in. (7.3 cm); Diam. 7 9/16 in. (19.2 cm)

Classification: Ceramics

Credit Line: Purchase, The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift, 2002

Accession Number: 2002.132


This attractive bowl exemplifies punch'ōng ware's link to the past and simultaneously reveals the new ceramic type's innovative verve. Punch'ōng's physical connection to celadon of the Koryō dynasty (918–1392) lies in its clay and glaze; the stylistic tie between the two ceramic wares is evident in the decorative vocabulary of inlay. This bowl does not have the characteristic green hue of the famed Koryō ware, due partly to the smaller amount of iron in the glaze, and partly to the abundant surface coverage in white slip. Indeed, propensity for whiteness is one of punch'ōng ware's distinguishing features. Yet as this piece demonstrates, it is a creative, even playful, use of white—an alternative to the solemnity of white porcelain of the early Chosōn dynasty (1392–1910).

The decoration on the outside of the bowl is divided into three horizontal bands: a continuous scroll of peony leaves bound by a border of simplified grass on top and a linear border on the bottom. The top half of the interior of the bowl mimics the exterior design scheme; the rest of the space is covered with concentric circles of tightly packed, miniature chrysanthemum flower heads surrounding a single, much larger bloom in the center. The individual motifs on this bowl are standard types for punch'ōng ware, particularly of the fifteenth century. However, the combination of inlaid peony leaf scroll with stamped chrysanthemum heads is rare and unexpected. And the juxtaposition of shapes—bold, sweeping foliage versus delicate, round flowers—is visually striking.

The term punch'ōng is a contraction of punjang hoech'ōng sagi—literally, "gray-green ceramic ware decorated with powder"—and was first used in the twentieth century (the original name of this ware remains unknown). Manufactured only in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, this ceramic type was used by virtually all classes, although it was eventually displaced by porcelain. Beyond the domestic consumer, punch'ōng found esteem among tea practitioners in contemporaneous Japan—a captive audience to its earthy appeal.