Exhibition celebrates Joseon era’s last princess

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Exhibition celebrates Joseon era’s last princess

Princess Deokhye was the daughter of King Gojong, the 26th and penultimate monarch of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and his concubine Lady Yang.

As the king’s only daughter and an icon of the royal family, the princess was beloved by Koreans who endured the Japanese colonial rule. Japan annexed Korea in 1910, two years before the birth of the princess.

She also drew nationwide attention as an early adopter of Western fashion, in addition to her symbolic value and good looks.

However, the life of the last Joseon princess was far from the splendor of her early childhood: she was forced to go study in Japan at age 14 and marry a Japanese nobleman. The marriage ended in divorce because she developed a mental illness. She had long yearned to return home after Korea’s liberation in 1945 but could not do so due to opposition from Syngman Rhee, Korea’s first president who apparently feared that the presence of the Joseon royal family might undermine his authority. It was only in 1962, 36 years after leaving Korea, that she was allowed to return. She lived in Seoul’s Changdeok Palace until she died at age 78 amid fading public attention to the royal family.

An exhibition that started yesterday at the National Palace Museum of Korea in Seoul highlights the life of the ill-fated last princess. It was planned to mark the 100th anniversary of her birth and 50th anniversary of her return from Japan, museum officials said.

The special exhibition features several of Deokhye’s belongings, including traditional dresses and jewelry of the Joseon era, wedding gifts and documents. The dresses, jewelry and wedding gifts are in the possession of the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum and Kyushu National Museum in Japan. The National Palace Museum borrowed the items to put them on display for the first time in Korea.

“The exhibit will be a chance to understand the life of Princess Deokhye, who symbolizes every ordeal experienced by all Koreans and the Korean Empire, which lost sovereignty under the Japanese colonial regime, as well as the history of the court and costumes of royal women in the Joseon Dynasty,” said Park Dae-nam, curator of the museum.

The “Special Exhibition of the National Palace Museum of Korea: Last Princess Deokhye” will continue until Jan. 27.


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