Irrational exhuberance or sober restraint? The contrasting tastes of 18th century neighbours

by Philip Gowman on 16 November, 2010

in Art history, Ceramics, Joseon Dynasty

Leaving aside the question of whether you would fork out £53 million (including taxes and buyer’s premium) for an object that a careless cat could smash to smithereens in an instant, which vase would you rather have on your mantelpiece?

Qing-v-Joseon

On the left, the exhuberant, flamboyant, labour-intensive masterpiece produced by Qing dynasty ceramic artisans (and sold in a west London auction room to an anonymous buyer for a £43 million hammer price last week). On the right, the simple, almost austere vase produced by a Joseon dynasty master potter at about the same time (currently in a private collection but on show to the G20 heads of state in Seoul, also last week). Both were made in the first half of the 18th century, and are around the same size: the Chinese one is 16 inches tall, the Korean one about half an inch taller.

No doubt there were Koreans who admired the colour and quality of Chinese luxury goods, but the official line was that the Manchu Qing were northern barbarians with vulgar taste. Joseon dynasty pottery (famous for the moon jars) was predominantly white with maybe a one-colour design.

I’m sure no photo can do either work justice, but based purely on the images available and having seen neither in the flesh, I’m definitely on the side of restraint.

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