Seal of the Emperor: The Symbol of the Korean Empire

National Palace Museum of Korea

The Seal of Emperor Gojong of the Korean Empire("Hwangjejibo") and two of the state seals have recently been designated as National Treasures of Korea. These seals were used by the Korean emperor as a symbol of his imperial authority.

Recently, three Seals of the State housed in the National Palace Museum of Korea have been designated as national treasures: Seal of the Emperor(皇帝之寶), Seal of the King's Order(諭書之寶), and Seal of the King's Appointment(濬明之寶).[National Treasures No. 1618-2, -3, and -4; Designated Jan. 2, 2017]

A Seal of the State is a national symbol and official seal used on documents produced in accordance with the King's orders. 2017 marks the 120th anniversary of the proclamation of the Korean Empire. For that reason, the designation of the Seal of the Emperor, a Seal of the State of the Korean Empire which symbolizes the nation's independence, as a national treasure is even more meaningful.

The three Seals of the State designated as national treasures are part of the nine seals that were formally returned to Korea by former U.S. President Barack Obama on April 25, 2014 during the U.S.-Korea Summit.

These seals were at one time looted from Deoksugung Palace by U.S. soldiers during the Korean War, and upon discovery that the artifacts were cultural property exported illegally from Korea, an agreement was made for their safe return.

The cultural assets returned from the U.S. included two Joseon-era Seals of the State, one Royal Seal of the Korean Empire, one Seal of the Emperor, and five private seals belonging to the royal family.

Among them, the Seal of the Emperor was part of ten Seals of State produced by the Korean Empire and one of only four presently remaining. Naturally, its significance as a national treasure is extremely high.

Three Seals of the Emperor were produced when Gojong was elevated to Emperor status - two were made of jade, and one was made of silver and plated in gold. Two jade seals are said to have been produced with Namyang jade, recognized as the finest available jade.

One of the two featured a turtle-shaped handle(龜紐), while the other featured a dragon-shaped handle (龍鈕). Of the three different types of Seals of the Emperor, the one in possession of the National Palace Museum of Korea is a jade seal with a dragon-shaped handle. It even features a hole in the middle of the dragon for attaching a lanyard.

As the Korean Empire was established, the shapes of the Seals of the State also changed. The Seal of the Emperor is one of the artifacts that well-reflects this important characteristic. The most significant change is that the shape of the handle changes from a turtle to a dragon which symbolizes the Emperor.

Changes continued in the typeface on the stamping surface of the Seals of the State. While a Joseon-era Royal Seal filled the entirety of a seal surface with twisting perpendicular strokes in a typographical style known as Gucheopjeon(九疊篆), a Seal of the State of the Korean Empire featured a large amount of negative space in a style known as Sojeon(小篆).

As a symbol of the independent nation of the Korean Empire established 120 years ago, the Seal of the Emperor not only a seal that declares Gojong as Emperor, but an important national treasure that must be preserved long into the future. The Seal of the Emperor is currently being exhibited with other seals returned in 2014 in the first "Kings of the Joseon Dynasty" permanent exhibition hall at the National Palace Museum of Korea.

Credits: Story

NATIONAL PALACE MUSEUM OF KOREA

A-ran Kim

Credits: All media
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