Celebrations in Korean Art during the Joseon Dynasty at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
The Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, will present In Grand Style: Celebrations in Korean Art during the Joseon Dynasty, on view 25 October 2013 – 12 January 2014. It is the first major U.S. exhibition to explore the colourfully choreographed ceremonies of Korea’s Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).
The exhibition features more than 110 objects that illustrate for are intended for festive events such as birthdays, weddings and political appointments, which were celebrated with elaborate rites that sometimes involved thousands of participants and continued for days. Dance, music, cuisine and procession all had parts in the festivities, while rules were prescribed that governed practically every detail of the celebrations.
The careful, detailed organisation of extensive events during the dynasty sprang from the country’s national ideology of Confucianism, which considered ritual and order the foundations of a stable, peaceful civilization. Many of these celebrations were recorded in comprehensive detail through writings and paintings in multivolume books known as ‘royal protocols’ (uigwe). These documents are so detailed that it is possible to reconstruct the ceremonies even today, a century after the end of Korea’s period of royal rule.
One unique Korean ritual was the making of placenta jars. Immediately after birth, the tissue surrounding the royal baby, including the placenta and umbilical cord, was placed in a set of jars and kept in a special chamber for the symbolic protection and well-being of the family member throughout life. In the late 15th century, placenta jars of white porcelain took on standardized forms—taller than previous types, and distinctively decorated with four loops on the shoulders.
During a king’s lifetime, he would earn honorary titles as celebrations of important moments such as King Taejo’s book made entirely of jade; commissioned by King Sukjong, it was inscribed in glittering gold and on the ten jade pages are King Taejo’s accomplishments and deeds.
A common symbol of royal authority was the combination of a sun, moon and five peaks in paintings; these elements in this screen represent the universe, with the king symbolically at the centre.
The Joseon dynasty’s royal culture became an influential model for the elite (yangban) class of the country. Several paintings portray celebrations of accomplishments in a yangban man’s life, such as passing state examinations or promotions in the government.