The Face Made of Clay


Earthenware of Shilla Dynasty had a small figure attached to the surface, which was shaped after man or animal. This small, attached thing is called a decorative clay figure. It is divided into a man-shaped and an animal-shaped clay figure. Some of man-shaped clay figures, in spite of being made shapelessly with hands, show features of human faces.
As these small figures are considered as things to be used specially for a funeral rather than to be used in ordinary life, they seem to have reflected a notion of the people in Shilla Dynasty. The clay figure symbolizes a variety of contents. A man with a water barrel or bundle on his back and a farmer with a hoe on his shoulder represent life in the real world. The people who play the Kaya harp, or the pipe, who dance to the tune of the pipe, who dance wearing a mask and who make sorrowful faces, closing their eyes, probably may be mourning for the dead. All of them such as the men who reveal very exaggerated penises, the women who have big breasts or are being delivered of babies, and the couple who are having sexual intercourse, mean richness, fecundity and resuscitation.

Eyes and mouth are expressed with small and round holes or narrow and long cracks, and noses are expressed crudely by being stuck roughly or omitted from the start. But in each face, we can see the emotion, life, death and the spiritual world of the people in Shilla Dynasty.
A clay model is not attached to the earthenware, different from a decorative figure. Because most of the clay models were discovered in tombs, they seem to have a relation with the funeral customs. After the custom of burying the living with the dead disappeared in China, man-shaped substitutes, namely clay models, were buried with the dead, instead. In Korea, they seemed to have appeared after the custom was abolished. In the case of Shilla, after the order to prohibit the burying of the living with the dead, production and burial seemed to be prosperous.
Because of our lack of knowledge of just how the figures were excavated, our lack of knowledge of the exact state of the figure is just as deep. But lots of figures excavated in Hwangseongdong and Yonggangdong, Gyeongju are helping the investigation. The site in Hwangseongdong is a cave-typed stone chamber tomb of the Unified Shilla Dynasty. In this cave were discovered six clay models including a wheel, a cow and horse figures and four of them preserved faces. The woman-figure wears a cloth with long sleeves, has a bottle in her right hand, and smiles shy and gentle smile with her left hand on her mouth. Her hair is parted in the middle and tied at the back. She has a small but comely nose and narrow attractive eyes. The old man-figure has narrow eyes and a smile with open mouth. It is a common face of a considerate old man. The man-figure with a hat on and with gently closed eyes, big nose, a little opened mouth and bowed head is a successful applicant of the civil service examination. The other man-figure with the hat of Manchurian barbarians seems to have expressed the brave warrior character of the western Chinese with slant eyes and an extended upward mouth - not a typical Korean face.

In Yonggangdong, 29 clay models were excavated around a table of dead bodies in a cave-type stone chamber tomb. Their surfaces are worn with white soil and colors are added to the chief man-figures, producing magnificence. The figures consist of two groups of male and female. Their size and method of expression divide them into, as for male figures owner, civil minister, chamberlain and warrior, and as female figures, into owner and lady attendant. It shows that they may be the person varied there and his vassals. The owners of the tomb have round and plump faces, like faces in the golden age of the Tang Dynasty. Within the civil minister-figures is a figure, which is similar in face to the Manchurian barbarian. He is bearded, has a highbridged nose, slant eyes and all his characteristics can be seen easily in Chinese Three Colored Pottery.
Besides them, figures (whose place of excavation is uncertain) to mourn for the dead, have sad faces, bow on their knees or sing laments playing musical instruments, which look like Korean mandolins. About the skill to express faces, they have in common with decorative clay models of ancient Shilla, but the change of clay figures was different in function rather than formation.
A spirit's vessel is one buried in tomb for the dead. It is different according to life styles, materials and techniques of each period. In the period of Three Kingdoms, earthenware was buried, and in Koryo and Chosun Dynasty porcelain was buried. The shapes of spirit's vessels are various. Of them, many man-shaped dolls appeared after the middle of Chosun Dynasty. Generally, man and woman-shaped dolls were found together and sometimes with a horse. Their faces were simply expressed in carved white soil and partly being painted with cobalt and supported by iron, making them active as a whole. The shapes of faces are various - polished things with round and nicely slender chins and folk things of square, almost fat faces. Some faces expressed mildness and kindness as can be found in Kim Hong-dos customs paintings and some show the difficulty of life with indifferent or humorous outlook. The man-shaped dolls in spirit's vessels, though the chief parts of the body, provide valuable materials that we can know indirectly the shape of a man and clothes in each period because the models were people who lived in that period.
Another type of face are found : a face carved on the surface of a rice bowl made with clay excavated in Anabji and another faces carved on Kalavinka(sumaksae: a kind of roof tile). The face of Kalavinka in Anabji, in contrast to that of Hongryunsa Temple, is shapeless, open-mouthed and masculine. In the period of Koryo Dynasty, existed bowls carved for children, Buddhist priests and immortals, and in Chosun, were shown child or Buddhist priest-figures made of white porcelain. Therefore, Korea has the tradition that the Korean face-figures based on clay were inherited since prehistoric ages.