"Once upon a time long, long ago when the tiger smoked a pipe . . ." This familiar phrase, used at the beginning of Korean children's stories, is represented literally on this jar in underglaze cobalt. The tiger-and-magpie theme is a popular motif in Korean folk painting. In the past, Koreans believed that tigers embodied the spirit of mountains and possess the power to ward off all evil and harm, and that magpies are harbingers of good news.
Porcelain wares with underglaze-cobalt decoration began to be produced in Korea during the fifteenth century, with imported cobalt from China. According to the fifteenth-century scholar Seong Hyeon (1439–1504), King Sejo (r. 1455–1468) used both undecorated and underglaze-cobalt-decorated porcelain, while King Sejong (4. 1418–1450) was served only in porcelain wares. Although native cobalt was discovered in 1463, potters preferred imported cobalt because the native cobalt contained manganese, which turned dark during firing, rather than clear blue favored by Koreans.