Art Histories Seminar
Mi 10 Jun 2015 | 11:00–13:00

Chinese Images for Commemorative Painting in the Late Chosŏn Dynasty, Korea

A Transcultural Approach to Chosŏn Art and Visual Culture by Yoonjung Seo (Art Histories Fellow 2014/15)

Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

The commissioning of commemorative paintings was considered a distinct social practice in the Chosŏn bureaucratic society, one in which the camaraderie among officials and solidarity of a scholarly elite group based on seniority was highly significant. This study examines the emergence of Chinese figural motifs and old tales as subjects of commemorative art in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and analyzes how the symbolic, imaginary space shaped by a Chinese mythic past evokes that once-current events of Chosŏn Koreans, pays homage to their memorable moments, and mediates between the past and present within a cohesive artistic program.

I surmise that a certain type of themes, the mode of representation, formats and styles were favored for this genre, which came into ever greater demand with the increasing desire of patrons and artists to commemorate culminating moments of their lives in a metaphorical way by appropriating transcultural visual idioms and motifs, primarily deriving from the idealized past of China. My study thus takes into consideration multiple aspects of the production and appreciation of commemorative painting, addressing socio-political significance in this bureaucratic society, the cross-referencing of word and image embedded in colophons, poems, and paintings, and the role of royal patronage in the spread of Chinese-related themes through late Chosŏn society. The paintings discussed here reveal a range of favored themes, delving into their symbolic resonance with contemporary events, the occasions on which these works were requested or awarded, their iconographic and stylistic eclecticism and the adaptation of archaic styles and formats of screen for these Chinese themes, which patron-recipients and/or artists found most suitable for materializing their ideas.

Finally, two important source of impetus behind the prevalent Sinophile penchant in the visual culture of this period—domestic and foreign vectors, will be investigated. The first is King Sukchong’s (r. 1674-1720) patronage of art and predilection for Chinese images and artifacts as a means to propagate his political reforms and legitimize his sovereignty; the second is the transregional circulation of artistic concepts, forms and images through books, prints and other types of reproductions, as well as trade in Chinese artifacts and commodities in early eighteenth-century East Asia. This research not only brings to light the dynamics of art and politics in the late Chosŏn dynasty, but also elucidates the fluid mobility of visual forms and processes of cultural transmission recurrent in the East Asian region.

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