The Korean ceramics collection at the Honolulu Museum of Art is among the oldest in the country and finest in the world. With the recent arrival of visiting curator of Korean art Ga Young Oh from South Korea’s Gyeonggi Ceramic Museum, we’re gaining a deeper understanding of the collection.

When asked to highlight a Korean work now on view, Ga Young chose our famed dragon jar—adding new insight on its origins:

In the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897) Korea, a set of white porcelain jars with dragon decorations could only be found at royal events or at royal banquets to display the dignity of the royal court. The jars used on such occasions were produced in official kilns called Bunwon (분원), located in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do province. The royal court employed 380 potters to produce white porcelain from these Bunwon, and the operation of the kilns was strictly monitored by Saongwon—the government bureau in charge of the king’s meals and food supply within the court.

This jar—produced between the 18th to 19th centuries—is an example of such a jar. It has a low, upright mouth and a globular upper body that sharply narrows at the base, a shape typical of white porcelain jars from the late 18th century. The surface is covered with a lavish, intricate design of two dragons and clouds painted with dark cobalt blue pigment. As it was produced for the royal court at the official kilns, this vessel is exquisite in shape and decoration.”