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Dragon Jar
Dragon Jar, 17th century
Porcelain with underglaze iron oxide decoration
13 3/8 x 12 5/8 inches (34 x 32.1 cm)
Purchased with the Hollis Family Foundation Fund in honor of Colonel Stephen McCormick, 2002
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About This Jar

Dragons were one of the most favored decorative motifs in Korean ceramics, and large dragon jars like this one were considered prized possessions. A playful dragon wraps his body around this vessel, his tail almost touching his head among abstract lines representing clouds or water. The beast’s eyes and simple, quickly painted scales give a light-hearted feeling to the whole composition.

White porcelain objects painted with iron-brown underglaze were popular in eighteenth-century Korea. Since cobalt, the mineral used to produce the traditional blue-and-white designs, was very expensive, artists began to use the more affordable iron oxide under their glaze, producing an equally bold contrast with the white background.

This jar is notable for its "full moon" shape. Its round form and generous proportions were said to reflect the friendly, generous nature of the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) people. In order to create full moon jars, one bowl was inverted over another and then sealed at the joined rims. The bottom of the inverted bowl was removed to create the open mouth of the completed jar. Occasionally, the shape warped slightly during the firing process but the flaws add to the natural and unique qualities of each work.

Jars like this one were made originally to store tea, grains, or pickled vegetables. Known as a protector, the dragon might have been painted to shield the contents from spoiling or from mice.

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Korea, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.

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