Portrait of Three Jo Brothers

National Folk Museum of Korea

The sense of fraternity between the three brothers, Jo Gye (1740–1813), Jo Du (1753–1810), and Jo Gang (1755–1811) is well represented in this portrait.

"Portrait of the Three Jo Brothers" was designated as Treasure No. 1478 by the Korean government. Its significance lies in its unusual composition, which is different from other portraits from the Joseon Dynasty.

Generally, portraits from the Joseon Dynasty were painted for descendants, or for visitors wishing to pay their respects, and only one person was painted in order to create a stern atmosphere, as can be seen in the picture. This is "Portrait of Chusu Kim Jedeok" (1855–1925) and is typical of the Joseon Dynasty.

As above, only one person is painted in "Portrait of Lee Kyeong-ha" (1811–1891).

This is "Portrait of a Military Officer." As you can see, during the Joseon Dynasty, it was common to fill the canvas with a portrait of a single person.

"Portrait of the Three Jo Brothers" is therefore unique in its composition, as it features three people in a single portrait. All three brothers are shown from the waist up and angled slightly to the right. The overall composition forms a clear triangle, with the oldest brother in the center.

First, let's take a look at each of the Jo brothers. This is Jo Gye, the oldest brother (1740–1813). He was the Supreme Commander of the Three Provinces.

This is either Jo Du (1753–1810), the second oldest, or Jo Gang (1755–1811), the youngest. After passing his military service examination, Jo Du served as Governor of Seoncheon and was posthumously honored as Minister of War.

This is also either Jo Du (1753–1810), the second oldest or Jo Gang (1755–1811), the youngest. Jo Gang served as Governor of Sakchu and General of Gwangju, and was also posthumously honored as Minister of War.

Let's take a closer look at the drawing technique. True to the popular style of the late 18th to early 19th century, the brothers' facial expressions in "Portrait of the Three Jo Brothers" are quite vivid. To emphasise their deep wrinkles, the artist painted them with repeated, thick strokes.

In particular, there are deep wrinkles under the eyes,

wrinkles from the base of the nose down to the edge of the lips,

and the areas around the jaws and cheekbones are darkened.

"Portrait of the Three Jo Brothers" was painted using the typical portrait technique of the late 18th-century Joseon Dynasty. However, the detailed and individual depiction of each Jo brother differentiates it from other portraits. For example, the oldest brother's beard is quite sparse,

one of the younger brothers has a thick, grey beard,

and the other younger brother's beard is still dark. The varying characteristics of their beards are well captured and expressed.

Features that reveal their age, such as wrinkles, spots, and blood-shot eyes, are also vividly drawn. The portrait also conveys their personalities.

So Korean portraits do not simply emphasize people's external appearances. They capture the inner spirit of every individual, revealing the culture and personality of each.

Now let's take a look at their clothes. All three of them are wearing "osamo" hats and rose pink "sibok" clothes, but each has a different "gak-dae" belt around their waist.

Jo Gye is wearing a golden belt with red spots, worn by high-ranking officials.

His two brothers are wearing

belts with matching patterns over their robes.

The three brothers are wearing "sibok" clothes. These are rose pink "danryeong" (ceremonial robes) without any embroidery to indicate rank, and were worn to the palace for an audience with the king, or by government officers while on duty.

Like a memorable family photo, "Portrait of the Three Jo Brothers" is still considered a valuable piece of art today. As you look at the portrait, try to picture these three brothers in their similar and yet different lives.

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