Chaekgado by Jang Han-jong

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Books and Scholar's Utensils

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Chaekgado as a Genre
‘Chaekgado’ or ‘chaekgeori’ designates still-life paintings that depict mostly books and other associated objects such as decorative bibelots, antiques, stationery items and flowers. This type of paintings were popularly produced in late Joseon, as they won the favor of royals and aristocrats. In the surviving Chaekgado from the Joseon period, rare or exotic objects of various sorts are almost always displayed alongside books. As Chaekgado mostly represent objects that existed actually, rather than imagined objects, the sundry items depicted in them have been an endless source of curiosity for researchers in many fields. Chaekgado are also invaluable sources of insights into the society and mores of late Joseon. 

Emergence of Chaekgado 
    Written records suggest that Chaekgado were actively produced during the reign of King Jeongjo (1776-1800), by court painters. In other words, this genre flourished unsurprisingly during the rule of one of Joseon’s most scholarly monarchs, who had an extreme fondness of books. Meanwhile, beyond the reflection of a reign, the popularity of Chaekgado also mirrors the social atmosphere of this era. The terms ‘chaekga’ and ‘chaekgeori’ first appeared in Jeongjo’s time, and this has likely to do with ‘Jabidaeryeong hwawonje.’ Jabidaeryeong hwawonje is a disposition taken in the 7th year of Jeongjo’s reign (1783) to select a small number of elite court painters to directly serve the king. Elite court painters were selected through regularly-administered, competitive tests of skills. Chaekgado was one of the genres in which the skills of courter painters were tested. Although we may never know what an ideal Chaekgado according to Jeongjo was like in the absence of direct surviving evidence, the studious monarch is nevertheless recorded to have said, “Even when I cannot read, just stepping into the library and patting books makes me feel so much happier.” Hence, for King Jeongjo, a perfect Chaekgado probably represented, or conjured up the image of, a study densely packed with books; in other words, a painting quite distinct from a typical 19th-century Chaekgado in which books are most often accompanied by various alluring and captivating objects. 19th-century Chaekgado, meanwhile, are likely to have been influenced by ‘dabogyeok’ (‘duo bao ge’ in Chinese), the display cabinets that became highly popular in Qing China, around that time. Dabogyeok in Qing China were of two types: one was a chest, built in different styles, and the other a cabinet in which various objects are stored for display. The culture of dabogyeok was brought into Joseon and was rapidly embraced by its society thanks to King Jeongjo’s openness to foreign cultural influences and a social atmosphere friendly to Qing culture in general, as exemplified by the Bukhak (Northern Learning) School. The widespread adoption of dabogyeok among royals and aristocrats probably made it fashionable to buy and collect Chinese antiques, creating a propitious condition for the emergence of Chaekgado. This appears to be one of the reasons why Chaekgado which were mostly images of a study during Jeongjo’s time later came to be accented with antiques and sumptuous ceramic vases.

Chaekgado by Jang Han-jong
The Chaekgado by Jang Han-jong is one of the oldest surviving paintings of its kind. The painting, showing a bookcase draped by a curtain with the design of character ‘囍,’ on either side, has an original composition. The stately allure of the bookcase is revealed as the yellow curtain is gradually lifted for a dramatic presentation. Beyond the lifted yellow curtains stands a bookcase with eight sections, each consisting of four to five shelves. On these shelves books are displayed along with Chinese-style ceramics, jade and bronze ware, calligraphic tools, fruits and flowers. Famille rose (fencai) ceramics, imported from the Qing Dynasty, and writing supplies are the bulk of the items accompanying the books. The linear perspective that became popular at that time under the influence of Western paintings, coupled with shading, lends a certain gravitas to this painting. Meanwhile, the highlights added to the beads hanging from the tassels suggest that Jang Han-jong possessed quite an advanced understanding of Western painting techniques. The shades that are placed on the side panels of the bookcase and in various places of the curtains successfully add depth to this painting.  

Jang Han-jong’s Seal

The identity of the artist is indicated by a seal inside the seal case, located toward the bottom of the leftmost panel and partially veiled by the curtain, which bears the inscription “Janghangjongin” [Seal of Jang Han-jong]. Hiding a seal inside a Chaekgado as a way of signing the painting was a practice that became known through works by the court painter Lee Hyeong-nok (1808-1883 or later). This painting is thus also significant in that it presents evidence that such a signature was used by Jang Han-jong before it was used by Lee Hyeong-nok.

Bronzeware

The bronzeware appears to be in the style of Shang/ Zhou-dynasty goblets. Although it is impossible to know when the model of the bronzeware depicted here was made, bronze vessels of this type are among the items that are frequently displayed in Qing-dynasty dabogyeok display cabinets.

Bowl

The vessel placed on top of a pile of books is a solid-color glazed bowl with a turned out rim. The footed vessel to the left, standing directly on the shelf, is likely to be made of agate or jade, rather than ceramic, given the similarity of its surface design to that of the seals next to the bowl. Of note, however, is that bowls with a sharply-turned out rim like the one represented here never existed. It could, therefore, be simply an exaggerated rendering of the view from beneath.

Lidded Lacquerware Case

Ge Kiln-style Prunus Vase

Ge Kiln-style ceramics were produced in large numbers during the Qing Dynasty, thanks, in part, to the popularity of the movement for the revival of antiquity (fugu). The Ge Kiln-style prunus vase, depicted in this painting, appears as though it is missing the mouth section. This probably has to do with the fact that this is a view from beneath.

Bronze Tripod Cauldron

Bronze tripod cauldrons generally have distinctive straight, untapered legs. However, the legs are rarely, if ever, so long. Also, few surviving bronze tripod cauldrons have a slender body like the one depicted in this painting.

Long-necked Vase

This vase decorated with a bamboo design possesses an extremely long and narrow neck. Although the surface design is reminiscent of the underglaze designs of late Joseon blue and white porcelains, the vase depicted could still be a Qing-dynasty vase, given how the four gracious plants were popularly featured on vases also during the Qing Dynasty.

Chrysanthemum Plate

This type of dish was popular in Qing China, during the Yongzheng era.

Indigo-glaze Bowl

This bowl, glazed in white on the inside and in indigo on the outside, is in a typical style of the Qing Dynasty. As for the pomegranates, it is unclear whether they are meant to be actual fruits placed inside the bowl or an integral part of the bowl. Ceramic dishes filled with fruits or ceramic animals were produced during the Qianlong era, as decorative objects. There is thus a strong likelihood that the pomegranates in this painting are also ceramic fruits.

Painting of Prawns and Lotus Blossoms

Jang Han-jong was a court painter who was famed for his Eohaedo, a genre of painting depicting mostly aquatic scenes with fish and other aquatic lifeforms such as crabs, shellfish, prawns and water plants. As a young man, he is said to have carefully studied aquatic critters by examining the scales or shells of the trout, carp, crabs and terrapins that he bought from fish mongers to realistically render them in his paintings. In this painting inside the painting, Jang Han-jong placed two prawns, in other words, aquatic creatures whose depiction is his strong suit, along with lotus blossoms, in a central position (middle of the fourth and fifth panels). The Eohaedo painting is positioned in such a way that the upper and lower shelves and left and right side panels of the bookcase face each other symmetrically. The top and bottom shelves of the bookcase and the side panels are depicted according to respective vanishing points. Their centric points, meanwhile, are mostly on the horizon line along the top edge of the Eohaedo painting. Such use of perspective is also seen in the Chaekgado by Yi Hyeong-nok (collection of Leum, Samsung Museum of Art) which echoes this work in the way individual objects are depicted as well.

Long

‘Long,’ objects used to envelop books, also appear frequently in Chaekgado. In most cases, they are actual Long, but in some cases, they can be decorative ‘famille rose’ (fencai) ceramics. The Long, depicted here with a particularly sumptuous appearance, are highly likely to be decorative long in famille rose ceramic.

Yizing Zisha Teapot

This is a teapot that is frequently encountered in Chaekgado. In the late Ming Dynasty to the early Qing Dynasty, Yizing zisha teapots were exported along with Chinese tea to Europe where they became extremely popular. Starting in the Kangxi era (1662-1722), they were used in the imperial palace as part of the formal teaware.

Vessel with Daffodils

The plate is in the shape of a lotus leaf with veins carved on the back side. Based on its color, the plate is presumed to be a famille rose ceramic, coated with a blue glaze.

Carp-shaped Decorative Object

A carp lies horizontally on a wooden stand. Judging by its appearance, the carp could be made of jade. Jade sculptures of animals were widely produced since the Southern Song Dynasty. The carp is a fish considered auspicious across Asia, and more particularly in China. This is because the Chinese word for ‘carp’ is similar in pronunciation to the word for ‘profit.’

Pocket Doors

The bottom level of the bookcase is covered by pocket doors that are, in appearance, in paulownia wood and decorated with burnt design. In a signature humorous touch, Jang Han-jong left the rightmost door slid open to reveal the books inside.

Books and Scholar's Utensils by Jang, Han-jongGyeonggi Provincial Museum

Credits: Story

Director | Junkwon Kim
Exhibition planning | Ji-in Yoo, Gyeonbo Sim
Project support | PR & Marketing team, Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation

Credits: All media
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