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Joseon White Porcelain

Sawongwon and Royal Kilns

During the Joseon period, the government was heavily involved in the production of ceramics. With the founding of the new dynasty in 1392, Saseojeo (government agency responsible for supervising and controlling the production of ceramics) was renamed Sawongbang. In 1467, the agency was renamed again as Sawongwon, and it was expanded, reorganized, and given greater responsibilities, including production of vessels for the royal family.

Sawongwon established a branch in Gwangju and operated a huge kiln there to produce vessels for the royal family and government agencies. The Gwangju royal kiln employed as many as 380 artisans. Daejeon Jorye (National Rules and Regulations) Volume 2 is a written record of the activities o the royal kilns. It states that the royal kilns were ordered to produce 1,372 juk (one juk is 10 pieces) of porcelain vessels. There were also additional productions for special occasions such as royal weddings and funerals, and to be given as gifts from the king to his subjects or foreign governments

The royal kilns were government-funded operations, and most were destroyed during the Japanese invasion of 1592. Many potters were killed or abducted to Japan, dealing a severe blow to the ceramics industry in Korea. The royal kilns were closed for one year in 1628 after the Manchu invasion of 1627. The next several decades were the most difficult for the artisans: They were hard-pressed hard pressed to make a living because budget resources were being diverted to relief funds as the country slowly recovered from the devastation of war. By 1675, the situation had improved, and the royal kilns operated normally until 1720. In 1752, the royal kilns were relocated to today¡¯s Bunworn-ri, Gwangju, and a government office called Sagibongsa was established to operate them. This marked the beginning of the golden age of porcelain. Entering into the nineteenth century, however, the royal kilns began experiencing difficulties obtaining the necessary raw materials. The government treasury was drained due to the restoration of Gyeongbokgung Palace, and the international political situation worsened. The financial pressures increased until the last of the royal kilns had to be shuttered in 1883, closing the door on a glorious history of 131 years.