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7 / Domestic Life

Brush Holder
Brush Holder
Artist / Origin Korean artist
Region: East Asia
Date Chosôn Dynasty, late 18th–19th century
Material Porcelain
Medium: Ceramics
Dimensions H: 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm.), W: 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hewitt Fund

expert perspective

Soyoung LeeAssociate Curator of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Additional Resources

Finlay, Robert. “The Pilgrim Art: The Culture of Porcelain in World History.”Journal of World History 9.2 (Fall 1998): 141–187.

Hongnam, Kim. Korean Arts Of The Eighteenth Century: Splendor And Simplicity. Boston: Weatherhill, 1993.

Kim, Jae-yeol. White Porcelain and Punch’ong Ware: Handbook of Korean Art. London: Laurence King, 2003.

Lee, Soyoung. “Yangban: The Cultural Life of the Chosôn Literati.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/yang/hd_yang.htm (October 2004).

Roberts, Claire, and Michael Brand. Earth, Spirit, Fire: Korean Masterpieces of the Chosôn Dynasty (1392–1910). Sydney: Powerhouse Publishing, 2001.

Smith, Judith E. Art of Korea. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.

Brush Holder

» Korean artist

Openwork porcelain brush holders like this one gained popularity in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Korea.

Brush holders, along with other writing paraphernalia such as ink stones, paper boxes, and water droppers, were requisite items in the study, or sarangbang, of elite scholar-officials (yangban) during this time. The sarangbang was the center of the yangban home in Chosôn Korea, the place where the male head of house would work, but also where he would entertain guests. Writing accoutrements fulfilled a utilitarian function in this context, but also a social one. The aesthetics of the objects communicated messages about the owner’s philosophies, as well as his taste and status.

The Chosôn (also spelled Joseon) period in Korea began in the fourteenth century. Chosôn literally means “Fresh Dawn,” a name that alluded to purification following the corruption of the previous regime. Among the major changes enacted by Korea’s new dynasty was the rejection of Buddhism as the official state religion. Neo-Confucianism replaced it as the prevailing influence on government policy as well as social ideology. The yangban studied, practiced, and promoted Confucian principles, which in turn seem to have influenced their aesthetic preferences. Undecorated white porcelain, for instance, embodied the highly valued virtues of simplicity and purity. Although embellished, the brush holder seen here incorporates a motif that speaks symbolically to the same ideals. Lotus flowers are a traditional symbol of purity and rebirth in Korea.

White porcelain, called paekcha, developed in Korea in the fifteenth century and was initially restricted to use by royalty. Soon, upper classes, such as the yangban, were also given access to the porcelain produced by the royal kilns known as punwôn. By the time this brush holder was made, the demand for porcelain had become widespread and local kilns were established to supply the general population. However, the quality of porcelain varied widely, and the best examples remained in the hands of the elite. The bluish tint of this piece is typical of white porcelain in the later Chosôn period.

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