Shining light on efforts to preserve Korea’s past

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Shining light on efforts to preserve Korea’s past

Nearly 100 years ago, a museum in Changdeok Palace opened to the public despite opposition from high-ranking officials, who argued against allowing outsiders onto the grounds of the royal residence.

King Sunjong, the last king of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), persuaded the officials, saying “a good king enjoys things together with the people.”

On Nov. 1, 1909, it opened to the public, becoming the first museum in Korea’s history. The attraction, which later became known as the Imperial Museum, initially held 6,800 paintings, works of celadon (the first kind of porcelain developed by Koreans), crafts and palanquins. It opened when Japanese influence here was growing, helping to preserve Korea’s historic artifacts and keep them inside the country. The museum moved to other locations over the years, and the National Museum of Korea now houses most of its artifacts.

To commemorate this past, the National Museum is holding an exhibition titled “Korean Museum, 100 Years in Remembrance.” The event will give visitors a chance to learn about the history of museums in Korea. A total of 150 artifacts from the Bronze Age to the Joseon era will be on display until Nov. 8. Many of these artifacts are rarely shown in public, as they are held by overseas museums or kept in storage for preservation purposes.

Among the pieces, a painting on a silk scroll titled “Dream-journey to the Paradise of the Peach Blossom Land” is a must-see. The painting was produced in 1447 by Joseon painter Ahn Gyeon at the request of Prince Anpyeong. The prince asked Ahn Gyeon to portray a utopia he saw in his dream. Ahn Gyeon finished it in just three days. The work represents the Taoist philosophy and is the oldest landscape painting from the Joseon era among works with known production dates. The painting is actually only a part - one meter, or 39.4 inches - of the 112-meter-long scroll. The rest consists of poems and writings by renowned scholars of the time. The piece is on loan from Tenri University’s library in Japan. The painting will be on display until Oct. 7 and then returned to the library.

Another piece worth seeing is “Saddle Lap with ‘Heavenly Horse’ Painting from Cheonmachong” from the Silla Dynasty (fifth to sixth century). It was excavated in a tomb in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang. The image is painted on a panel (53 x 75 centimeters) made of white birch. It took four years to restore the piece, which was briefly shown one other time to the public more than a decade ago. It will be on display until Oct. 11.

A Goryeo celadon work titled “Celadon Pitcher with Inlaid Design of Grape and Child” is not only an outstanding example of Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) craftsmanship but is also an important part of the history of Korea’s museums. The Imperial Museum started collecting artifacts in 1908, when robbery involving Goryeo’s royal tombs was rampant. The celadon is one of the first batches of pieces the museum collected. The museum bought the piece from a Japanese antique dealer. Now, it is kept in the National Museum of Korea.

The exhibition will continue through Nov. 8. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays; and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays and over the Chuseok holiday. Admission is free.

For further information, call (02) 2077-9000 or visit

By Limb Jae-un []

“Dream-journey to the Paradise of the Peach Blossom Land” by Ahn Gyeon Courtesy of the National Museum of Korea
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