Rare painting from Joseon Dynasty comes back to Korea from U.S. after 490 years
An old painting depicting officials of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) engaging in a scholastic program at a pavilion by the Han River near present-day Oksu-dong in Seongdong District, eastern Seoul, returned to its home country after 490 years.
Such paintings that depict the gathering of officials at this pavilion, or a study called dokseodang, is referred to as dokseodang gyehoedo.
The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) announced that it was able to bring back the painting together with the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation through an auction in the United States held in March. The CHA revealed the 16th-century painting to the local press on Wednesday at the National Palace Museum of Korea in central Seoul and said a special exhibit on Korean cultural heritages coming back from overseas, which will include the painting, will be organized at the museum from July 7 through Sept. 25.
According to the CHA, the painting was created to commemorate a gathering of officials who participated in the sagadokseo program during the reign of King Jungjong (r. 1506–1544).
Sagadokseo was a program for cultivating talented young civil officials during the Joseon Dynasty. It provided a sabbatical leave allowing officials to devote themselves full-time to studying rather than carrying out government affairs.
“It is a highly valuable work and is the earliest among the three surviving examples of dokseodang gyehoedo paintings from the 16th century,” said Lee Seon-hyeok, an official from the CHA. “Notably, its production year can be determined by examining the names and titles of the participants. It is a masterpiece that demonstrates key characteristics of landscape paintings from the early Joseon Dynasty.”
The title of the painting, written in Chinese characters in the upper part of the painting, reads, “dokseodang gyehoedo.” The middle section of the painting depicts the former Dumopo area, which is today’s Oksu-dong. Mount Eungbong sits in the center, which still exists today and is visited by many residents nearby.
Dokseodang Study was constructed in 1517 during King Jungjong’s reign. It housed an institution to promote study and research and was used for the sagadokseo program until it was destructed during the Imjin War (1592–98).
The writings on the lower part of the painting list the names and details of the 12 participants of the gathering.
“The participants were young officials in their 20s and 30s who had taken part in the sagadokseo program between 1516 and 1530,” said Lee.
Among the twelve are notable figures such as Ju Se-bung (1495–1554), an official known for his integrity who laid the foundation of Korean Neo-Confucian academies, called seowon, by establishing the Baegundong Confucian Academy; Song In-su (1499–1547), the author of “Gyuamjip” (Collected Works of Song In-su), who was revered as a master of Neo-Confucianism; and Song Sun (1493–1582), who excelled in poetry and prose and served in key governmental posts across five decades.
“The official titles of the participants recorded on the painting hold further significance in that they serve as a basis for the estimation of the period in which the painting was produced,” said Lee.
According to the Annals of King Jungjong, called Jungjong sillok, Song and Heo Hang (1497–1537) were appointed to new government posts in 1531 and 1532, respectively.
“The government positions that they held are recorded on the painting, which means that we can assume that the painting was created in or around 1531,” said Lee. “The painting is very rare in that it is a work in which its production period can be known, that is, from the early Joseon Dynasty, a period from which there are few surviving artworks, and moreover, as a masterpiece representative of the real scenery landscape paintings of the time.”
It is uncertain how the painting was ever taken outside of the country, according to the CHA. It is said that the previous owner of the painting was Kiichiro Kanda, the former director of Japan's Kyoto National Museum. It was sold after his death and ended up at an auction in the United States.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [email@example.com]