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Cinerary urn with concentric circles design


Artwork Details

Cinerary urn with concentric circles design
7th century - 8th century
stoneware with stamped design and natural ash glaze
3 1/4 x 4 11/16 x 4 11/16 in. (8.2 x 11.9 x 11.9 cm);2 1/16 x 4 11/16 x 4 11/16 in. (5.1 x 11.9 x 11.9 cm);1 3/4 x 3 5/16 x 3 5/16 in. (4.4 x 8.4 x 8.4 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Caroline I. Plumer for the James Marshall Plumer Collection


Gallery Rotations Fall 2012
Stoneware Cinerary Urns, 7th–8th Century
Cinerary urn with concentric circles design
Korea, Unified Silla period (668–935)
7th–8th century
Stoneware with stamped design
and natural ash glaze
Gift of Mrs. Caroline I. Plumer for the James Marshall Plumer Memorial Collection, 1973/2.34A&B
Buddhism spread throughout Korea during the fourth century,
and Koreans adopted the Buddhist practice of cremation.
Unglazed gray stoneware urns like these held ashes of the deceased. Sometimes the urns were placed inside granite containers before burial. Many similar urns have been unearthed in the vicinity of Gyeongju, the capital of Silla. Although modest in size, these funerary vessels have an intriguing shape. The horizontal stretch of the squat body is counterbalanced by the convex and concave curves of the lid, culminating in a pointed knob. One of the
knobs is button shaped. The other two knobs are in the shape
of a cintamani (wish-granting jewel), a Buddhist object that
has the power to shine even in darkness, thus symbolically enlightening the ignorant souls in its presence.
The stable, masculine form shows the pervasive influence of
Tang-ruled China, the staunch ally of Silla. But the designs—incised triangular shapes and impressed concentric circles
or impressed dots within partial circles—are characteristic
of Unified Silla decoration. This stamped decoration would
later contribute to the development of slip-inlaid decoration
on Goryeo celadon and Joseon Buncheong ware, which are on
view in this gallery.

Subject Matter:

This jar is designed to hold relics of the deceased. The knob at the top of the lid is in the shape of a cintamani ("wish-granting jewel"), which could have also had significance in its function.

Physical Description:

Stoneware jar with natural ash glaze, squat body and lid. Along the widest horizontal stretch is a design of incised concentric circles, with another row above consisting of circles comprised of a pattern of impressions marking the edge of each circle. The convex curve of the lid also contains a row of incised concentric circles, before sloping into a concave valley, and rising up again to a small plateau. It is on this landing that a cintamani style knob rests.

This is a dark blue-gray, high-fired stoneware lidded bowl with a stamped design. The lid features a pearl-shaped knob at its center and gently slopes down from its flat upper part. A row of double circles encircles upper part of the lid, with the circles in irregular positions. The bowl is widest in its upper part, while its flange slopes steeply inwards. Two thinly incised horizontal lines encircle the upper part of the body. Above these is a row of circles made of engraved dots, while between them is a row of double circles encircling the body. The low foot is thick and splays slightly. The upper part of the bowl shows traces of natural glaze.

[Korean Collection, University of Michigan Museum of Art (2017) p. 81]

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