Explore National Museum of Korea

Visit some of the oldest and important artifacts from Korea's past

The National Museum of Korea is the most representative and extensive museum in Republic of Korea. The museum holds an immense collection: it has more than 410,000 historically valuable and highly aesthetic relics ranging from the Paleolithic Age to the early 20th century, and more than 12,000 masterpieces of its collection are always on display in its permanent exhibition hall. The museum has six galleries: Prehistory and Ancient History, Medieval and Early Modern History, Donated works, Calligraphy and Painting, World Art, and Sculpture and Crafts Galleries. Visitors can appreciate its vast collection; numerous national treasures of Korea are exhibited including Pensive Bodhisattva (a Korean National Treasure), Goryeo Celadon Openwork Burner, Ten-Story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple Site, and Gold Crown from Silla.

The National Museum of Korea was established in 1945. In 2005, the museum extended and reopened on a site of 307,227㎡ (building area: 45,438㎡) in Yongsan, Seoul. Since its rebirth as a “cultural complex,” the National Museum of Korea not only to preserves and exhibits precious relics, but also provides various educational programs and cultural events.

This pensive Bodhisattva is a statue of Bodhisattva who is in meditation with right leg crossed over his left knee and his finger touching his cheek. The posture originated from the image of Prince Sakyamuni (Siddhartha) who is deep in meditation thinking about life of human beings.

Pensive Bodhisattva (Three Kingdoms Period, Early 7th century) by UnknownNational Museum of Korea

The Pensive Bodhisattva is Korea’s National Treasure No. 83. It is about 1 meter tall. The figure has a small tri-fold crown on its head - it is called “Samsankwan” (meaning “Three Mountain Crown”) as it looks like three mountain peaks, or “Yeonhwakwan” (meaning “Lotus Crown”) as it also looks like a lotus flower. The bare-chested upper body, which is not wearing anything except for a round-shaped necklace, adds to the simplicity of the statue. The lower part, covered with a skirt that has many folds, delivers a sense of dynamism. The statue, well known for its elaborately carved details, is regarded as one of the most representative Buddhist statues in Korea.

The Buddhist Sculpture Room is designed to allow people to enjoy the beauty of Korean Buddhist sculpture and learn about its characteristics. It provides a whole picture of the history of Korean Buddhist sculpture from the Three Kingdoms period to the Joseon Dynasty and gives information on characteristics of each type of sculpture. At the entrance, you can see large stone statues and iron statues of Buddha that were produced in Unified Silla and the Goryeo dynasty.

Maitreya Bodhisattva and Amitabha Buddha from Gamsansa Site (Unified Silla, 719) by UnknownNational Museum of Korea

This is Stone Standing Amitabha Buddha from Gamsansa Temple Site. This piece of art is Korea’s National Treasure No.82, and was crafted around the 8th century. It was originally in Gamsansa Temple in Gyeongju, a capital of the Unified Silla dynasty and in 1915, it found a new home here. Has anyone heard of “Amitabha Buddha”? Amitabha Buddha means the Buddha who reigns over Sukhavati, the Buddhist concept of heaven reserved for people who lived up to Buddhist principles. This Buddha has short and tight ringlet curls like turban shells and a big and flat lump on the top of the head, which is a typical feature of a Buddha statue. His large face has a look of solemnity and a message on the back panel of the statute reads that a high-ranking official named Kim Ji-seong built Gamsansa Temple and the Buddhist statues as a tribute to his parents in 719.

This is Seated Iron Buddha.The Buddha statue is Korea’s Treasure No. 332 estimatedly crafted around the 10th century of Goryeo. It was relocated from a temple site in Hanam, Gyeonggi Province.This statue is one of Korea’s largest iron-made Buddha statues at a height of 2.88 meters and a weight of 6.2 tons. This has typical features in Buddhist statues made during the dynastic transition from the Unified Silla dynasty to the Goryeo dynasty. It has a round-shape face, peaked eyes, a sharp nose, clamped small lips, and an extremely slim waist.

This is Stone Standing Maitreya Bodhisattva from Gamsansa Temple Site. This statute, produced in the 8th century during the Unified Silla dynasty, is designated as Korea’s National Treasure No. 81. In 1915, it was moved from the Gamsansa Temple site to the museum along with Amitabha. Maitreya is regarded as a future Buddha of this world. He is destined to become Buddha long after entering nirvana and come to save the world. The figure is wearing a high crown on its head, and the round face has smiling eyes and mouth. There are three distinct wrinkles on the neck, and the body is decorated with necklaces, bracelets, and beads. A message on the back panel reads that a high-ranking official named Kim Ji-seong made this statute as a tribute to his parents.

Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, blossomed one of the most splendid cultures of gold. When you see tombs of the ruling class of the Silla kingdom between the 5th and 6th centuries, you can observe the buried adorned with fancy accessories like gold or gold plated copper crowns, gold waist belts and gold earrings.

Gold Crown (Silla, 5th century) by UnknownNational Museum of Korea

This Gold Crown from Hwangnamdaechong Tumulus, which was excavated from the royal tomb, is Korea’s National Treasure No.191. The crown has three tree-like prongs with three branches and also has two antler-like prongs on the left and right side of the main band.These prongs have been interpreted by some scholars as trees connecting the sky and the land.This crown is particularly noted for its abundant use of jade and gold, with each piece of jade dangling via gold threads. The splendor of the crown well testifies to the power and authority of the Silla royalty.

The Gold Girdle from Hwangnamdaechong Tumulus , which was excavated from the royal tomb along along with the gold crown, is Korea’s National Treasure No. 192. The main belt is made of fabric and consists of 28 rectangular metal plates attached to the main belt of the girdle via hinges. The girdle holds a number of charms including comma-shaped jadeite beads, a fish, a whetstone, and a case of medicine. These ornaments show that the owner of the belt was a person of high social status.

In Celadon Gallery, you can see the evolution of the celadons produced under Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392) and appreciate the ultimate beauty of celadon masterpieces. Celadons are regarded as the classic wares of Korean porcelains. Excellence of Goryeo celadons was widely known overseas, in particular in China. And they are one of those artifacts of the Goryeo Dynasty that survived in numbers for the modern day people to witness. Celadons, which we regard as beautiful works of art now, actually had quite practical usage for the Goryeo people. They were crafted into various everyday wares such as pots, bottles, kettles, dishes, candlesticks, pillows, roof tiles and incense burners. For sure, the most common usage of celadons was for bowls to contain food, especially in the form of cups and glasses for water, alcohol and tea. Celadons are porcelains that are first coated with glaze and then fired at a temperature of about 1,300 degrees Celsius. To produce celadons required sophisticated technology and kilns that can get extremely hot. But then, the essence of Goryeo celadons lies in their unique pale green-blue color, which the then Chinese admired as “the best of its kind under the heaven.” Along with the jade color, the original inlay technique is another major characteristic of Goryeo celadons and it is regarded as one of the biggest achievements for the Korean art of pottery. Later, Goryeo celadons are succeeded by Joseon dynasty’s Buncheong Wares.

This is Bamboo sprout-shaped Ewer with Lid Celadon. Celadon that is made in the shape of an animal or a plant is called “sculptural celadon.” This ewer is a sculptural celadon as it was made in the shape of a budding bamboo sprout. The body is also decorated with the details of bamboo leaves, using techniques such as incising and carving in relief. Looking closely, you can see that the tips of the leaves is are slightly bending outward or upward. The spout and the handle are shaped like thin bamboo stalks. And the lid looks like a part of the bamboo sprout, which shows the wit of the craftsman who made this ewer. The entire surface is evenly coated with a jade-colored glaze, which makes this ewer all the more elegant and beautiful.

This is Incense Burner Celadon with openwork decoration. This incense burner is National Treasure No.95.

Incense Burner, Celadon with Openwork Geometric Design (Goryeo, 12th century) by UnknownNational Museum of Korea

This incense burner has three main parts: the openwork lid, which allowed smoke to flow through; the lotus-covered body, where the incense was burned; and the round base. The cover is an openwork globe, with designs wishing for good luck, long life and many offsprings. The body is elegantly ornamented with layers of lotus petals, while the base rests on the backs of three tiny rabbits. This incense burner displays an array of masterful decorative techniques, including incising, carving in relief, openwork, and inlay, and is thus revered as one of the finest Goryeo celadon works.

In the Metal Craft Gallery, you can see outstanding techniques and beauty of Korean metal craftworks. Metal craft means making objects using metals including gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin. Metals are stronger than other materials and glitter in the light. They also melt when you apply heat, so they can be easily made in many different shapes. Most well-known examples of metal craftworks include mirrors, which use metals that reflect the light, and bells, which use metals that make a ringing sound when they are hit. You can also incise any patterns and designs using a chisel and then fill the grooves with other metals to decorate them. Metal craft in Korea dates back to the 10th century BC, when objects such as bronze mirrors were produced to symbolize the power of the rulers. It blossomed during the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC–668 AD), when crowns, belts, and earrings were produced using gold and silver. During the periods of Later Silla (668–935) and Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), many Buddhist metalworks were produced including temple bells and reliquaries with the growth of Buddhism. Major examples of Buddhist metalworks are offering vessels, reliquaries, and Buddhist musical instruments that are used for Buddhist rituals. You can also enjoy high-quality metalworks that were used in everyday lives.

This Reliquary from the East Pagoda at Gameunsa Temple Site, produced during the period of Late Silla (668–935), is Korea’s Treasure No. 1,359. Gameunsa Temple was built by King Sinmun in 682, right after Silla unified the three kingdoms, to honor his father King Munmu. The reliquary was found on the 3rd floor of the east pagoda. It refers to a set of containers that had sarira, the relics of Buddha. Sarira was put inside a reliquary, which was then placed inside a pagoda. The inner container is shaped like a palatial building, and it is put inside the cubic outer container. The four sides of the outer container are embossed with images of the Four Heavenly Kings, who are thought to protect to the inner container. This demonstrates the outstanding metal craft techniques of that time.

This is Bronze Kundika (Ritual Ewer) with Silver Inlaid Landscape Design. This bronze kundika, made during the period of Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), is Korea’s National Treasure No. 92.

Bronze Kundika(Ritual Ewer) (Goryeo Dynasty, 12th century - 13th century) by UnknownNational Museum of Korea

A kundika refers to a vessel that contains clean water. It was originally one of the eight objects that a Buddhist monk should carry, and was placed before the Buddhist altar with clean water in it. This bronze kundika has an egg-shaped body and a round-shaped lid placed on top of a long neck. Above the lid is a thin tube that is used to pour water into and out of the vessel, and there is a spout on its shoulder. On its body, an idyllic waterside landscape is designed with a hill of reeds and willow as well as a fisherman rowing a boat. The ornamentation was done using the silver-inlaying technique, which refers to incising patterns into the surface and filling the grooved lines with silver.

Credits: Story

This online exhibition is made with the Street View panorama images created in February, 2016.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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