With its satisfying shape, harmonious decoration, and exquisitely colored celadon glaze, this maebyeong bottle is compellingly beautiful. Korea’s best-known ceramics, the celadon wares, were produced during the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), an era of supreme artistic refinement. Plain vessels and ones with molded, incised, or carved decoration typify eleventh- and early twelfth-century Korean wares, while ones with designs inlaid in black and white slips, such as this superb maebyeong bottle, epitomize those from the mid-twelfth through the fourteen centuries.
Known in Chinese as meiping and in Korean as maebyeong—the Korean pronunciation of the Chinese name—such bottles had appeared in China by the tenth century and had been adopted in Korea by the eleventh. Both Chinese and Korean examples from the eleventh century have broad shoulders and a narrow base but, due to their slightly convex sides, appear a bit stocky; by contrast, those from the mid-twelfth century onward are slightly attenuated and have bulging shoulders, a constricted waist, and lightly flaring foot. Despite the poetic name meaning “plum vase,” maebyeong vessels were not vases for the display of cut branches of blossoming plum; rather, like the related Chinese meiping vessels, they were elegant storage bottles for wine and other liquids, though later collectors admittedly did sometimes press them into service as vases on special occasions, particularly when inviting learned friends of refined taste.
For similar maebyong see Soontaek Choi-Bae, Seladon Keramic der Koryo-Dynastie 918-1392 /Celadon Wares of the Koryo Period 918-1392 (Koln: Museum fur Ostasiatische Kunst, 1984), cover illustration and no. 15; Korai meipin ten / Exhibition of Mei-Ping Vase Koryo Dynasty, Korea (Osaka: Museum of Oriental Ceramics, 1985), no. 2.; Korai seiji e no izanai / An Introduction to Koryo Celadon (Osaka: Museum of Oriental Ceramics, 1992), pl. 21.