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Korean Dragon Jar

In this view of the jar, the dragon twists and turns, curving itself over the jar’s round body.

This is the other side of the dragon jar.

A few simple brushstrokes suggest sharp teeth.

key idea
A Delightful Dragon

Symbols of good fortune and power, dragons were a favorite decoration on Korean ceramics. Though inspired by Chinese designs, Korean dragons are much more playful. The one on this jar was whimsically painted with brushstrokes that make it appear lighthearted and humorous. At the same time, the artist showed the dragon’s power, giving it a long snout, sharp teeth, fierce eyes, and hair standing on end.

In decorating dragon jars, artists painted the creature so that its body covered the whole jar. The dragon wrapping itself around this jar is shown swooshing through the sky, surrounded by wispy clouds. Dragons were said to control the weather and bring rain—a good omen for a plentiful harvest.

Originally, dragon jars were reserved for ceremonies and for decoration in royal households. But eventually they came into wider use. Often the number of claws on a dragon’s feet reveals something about the person the jar was made for. Five-clawed dragons, which represented the emperor, were for royalty only. Since this dragon’s feet are concealed by its snout and a cloud, the jar likely belonged to a common household.

The dragon’s four claws show that this jar was probably owned by a court official.
Korea, Choson dynasty, Dragon Jar, 18th century, porcelain with underglaze cobalt design, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
January 2010