Duck Oil Lamp, 6th century
Unglazed stoneware 6 3/4 in. x 8 1/4 in. (17.15 cm x 20.96 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase1971.2.2
The Silla Dynasty (57 bce–668 ce) was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Originally a chiefdom that was possibly ruled by shamans, the Silla unified the peninsula in 668 ce, from which time the kingdom is known as Later or Unified Silla. The earliest remains from this dynasty are found in tumuli (ancient grave mounds), which were raised over wood and stone chambers housing the remains of a single individual. These tombs were rich in gold adornment, reflecting the abundance of gold in the southern Korean peninsula. In addition to gold, large numbers of utilitarian unglazed stoneware vessels, often of dramatic, sculptural forms, have been found in the tombs.
Most numerous among the stoneware finds are mounted, covered cups for food (kobai) and long-necked jars (changgyong ho). The stoneware was fired in climbing kilns at temperatures of 800–1000 degrees Celsius, and though the works were not glazed, some pieces exhibit accidental ash-glazing.
The discovery of duck-shaped vessels on pierced bases in 5th–6th century tombs east of the Naktong River in North and South Kyongsang Provinces provides a basis for dating this vessel, though the form of this duck differs from those recorded examples. As with many Silla stoneware vessels, the potter incised the surface of the duck, though the incising does not appear to have been intended to replicate the duck’s feathers, and is more likely the water upon which he floated. The bowl on the top suggests that the vessel was used as a lamp.