According to the National Code (경국대전), there was once an organization called Saongwon (사옹원) that was responsible for the production of white porcelain in the Joseon dynasty. Saongwon oversaw numerous white porcelain kilns called bunwon (분원) in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province. Bunwon were established specifically for the royal court and also prepared royal cuisine and hosted state banquets. In Gwangju, there were once 340 Joseon kiln sites. Each royal kiln was said to have employed over 350 people, and when needed, those numbers reached near 1,000. Kilns were expected to relocate every ten years in search of available wood, eventually moving the royal kilns to Geumsa-ri in the 18th century. The kilns in Bunwon-ri were set up around 1752 and remained there until 1883, when all the royal kilns were privatized. Under Japanese colonization, the kilns collapsed in 1910 but are hailed today as a National Historic Site No. 314.
Joseon White Porcelain
What makes Joseon white porcelain so special? White porcelain doesn’t only refer to a pure white color, but also the blue and white porcelain that defined ceramics of Korea from the mid to late Joseon period. The blue-and-white porcelain that was produced in the Bunwon kilns was more innovative and fitting to the times while still maintaining a distinct Korean flavor. In the 18th century, new techniques and skills were applied to produce a wide variety of white porcelain vessels. Therefore, Bunwon was not only responsible for the royal family, but the emerging bourgeoisie of the 19th century. With this progress came a higher quality of clay and the loss of frugal designs. That being said, a pure and simple white vessel with few designs maintained its reputation as the highest form of beauty.
Among the sherds collected, there are many designs painted. The most popular wares produced were dishes, glasses, water droppers, ink slabs, and ritual dishes. Colors ranged from pure white to a light blue. Most of the wares produce in Bunwon had no patterns, but few had Chinese characters wishing ‘long life’, ‘good fortune’ or the name of the kiln where the ware was produced.
The Bunwon Kilns
The Bunwon Royal Porcelain Museum is established on the former site of the last royal kilns. The museum itself is an essential resource for the history of white porcelain and the excavations that took place between 2001-2002. Although the land was a former school site, it was replaced with the museum in order to preserve the invaluable relics found here. Visitors can even dig up the soil on the school grounds to find some sherds themselves!
The Bunwon kilns were excavated twice between 2001 and 2002. There are countless remains include workroom sites and an Ondol (underfloor heating) room. All the kilns unconvered had been built with clay and half of their bodies were built underground. The length of the 2nd kiln is 23m long with 1.7-3m in width, making it the longest of all the Joseon kilns. Kiln tools were also excavated such as a saggar.
The museum hosts events throughout the year to help educate guests on the history and production of white porcelain. For event details, please visit the museum website (listed below).
Opening Hours: 9am-6pm (5:30 last entry)
Address: 116 Bunwon-ri, Namjong-myeon, Gwangju-si, Gyeonggi-do | 경기도 광주시 남정면 분원리 116
BY BUS: Take a buss from Jungbu Express Way and depart at the Bunwon Royal Porcelain Museum.