Explore the Korea Collection at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities

Discover some of the around 500 objects, fragments, and paintings from Korea dating back to 57 BCE

By Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

Excavation at the Auspicious Pheonix Tomb (Seobongchong) (1926-10-26) by Unknown photographerMuseum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

The collection comprises mostly of ceramics and metal objects as well as small numbers of paintings, calligraphies, wooden furniture and printing blocks, textiles, and few objects made of lacquer, glass, and stone. An important group of objects were donated by the former King of Sweden, Gustaf VI Adolf (1882–1973), who was the first in Sweden to take an interest in Korean art and archaeology and personally visited the country in 1926. The large majority of objects entered the collection in the 1970s and 1980s through acquisitions and donations from Scandinavian doctors and nurses who worked at the Swedish Red Cross Field Hospital in Busan during and after the Korean War (1950–1953), as well as from Swedish diplomats and businesspeople.  

Gold earring Gold earring (5th-6th century, Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE), Silla (57 BCE – 668 CE))Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

Three Kingdoms

The Three Kingdoms period of Korea is designated as the period starting in 57 BCE and ending in 668 CE. The name refers to the three kingdoms of Goguryeo (37 BCE – 668 CE), Baekje (18 BCE – 660 CE), and Silla (57 BCE – 935 CE). However, there was also the Gaya confederacy (42 CE – 562 CE), which was another organized entity on the Korean Peninsula. The area that these powers occupied included the entire Korean Peninsula and most of Manchuria, which are today parts of China and Russia.

Earthenware animal figurine Earthenware animal figurine (5th – 6th century, Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE), Silla (57 BCE – 668 CE))Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

This earthenware figurine has the shape of an animal, presumably of a dog. Small clay figurines in the shape of animals and humans were found in tombs of the Silla kingdom (57BCE - 668CE).

The eyes and the half-open mouth were cut out from the clay with a sharp tool.

The neck is accentuated by impressing the clay to form a nape, a detail that shows the effort to render the shape of the animal as realistic as possible.

Parts of the ears and the snout have been broken off.

The same might apply to the short, slightly pointed tail.

Fragment of horse-shaped vessel Fragment of horse-shaped vessel (Ca. 5th – early 6th century, Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE), Silla (57 BCE – 668 CE))Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

This fragment in the form of a horse head was probably part of a horse-shaped ritual vessel from the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE)

Gold earring Gold earring (5th-6th century, Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE), Silla (57 BCE – 668 CE))Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

This gold earring consists of a primary pendant in the shape of a leaf surrounded by two tiers of smaller leaves above. A framework of wiring holds together the leaf-shaped sheets of gold.

Standing Buddha in gilt bronze Standing Buddha in gilt bronze (Silla, 8th century, Unified Silla period (668–935))Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

Unified Silla

The kingdom of Silla united most of the Korean Peninsula for the first time in history in 668, after conquering the kingdoms of Baekje and Goguryeo with the help of the Tang China. Unified Silla introduced a national academy for the study of Confucian classics and subsequently national examinations for government officials, modelled after the administration in China. 

Lidded funerary urn with stamped decoration Lidded funerary urn with stamped decoration (Unified Silla period (668–935), 8th century, Enade Silla)Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

In the seventh and eighth centuries, Korean monks travelled to China and India to study Buddhist teachings, and Buddhism exerted great social and cultural influence on the royal court, elites and the lower classes during this period. This led to the construction of temples and pagodas and the development of a distinct style of Buddhist art.

Standing Buddha in gilt bronze Standing Buddha in gilt bronze (Silla, 8th century, Unified Silla period (668–935))Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

This hollow-cast gilt bronze Buddha has a well-rounded, weighty body with a disproportionately large head compared to the rest of the body.

The round protuberance on top of the head (Sanskrit - ushnisha, symbolising wisdom), the conch-shaped hair curls, the elongated earlobes, the neck-folds and the circular dot on the forehead (Sanskrit: urna) are the characteristic physical attributes of a Buddha.

The facial features were carefully rendered in a realistic manner with arched eyebrows, half-closed eyes, the nose, full lips and a plump chin. The expression is mild and complaisant.

The right hand is in the gesture of fearlessness (Sanskrit: abhaya mudra)...

...and the left hand is in the gesture of wish-granting (Sanskrit: varada mudra).

The round shoulders are draped in a robe and undergarment with U-shaped folds.

Lines and U-shaped folds delineate each of the legs. The fabric appears thin and clings to the body as if wet.

Lidded funerary urn with stamped decoration Lidded funerary urn with stamped decoration (Unified Silla period (668–935), 8th century, Enade Silla)Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

This is a typical example of urns used for holding the ashes of the deceased after cremation during the middle period of Unified Silla.

Celadon bottle with incised cloud decoration Celadon bottle with incised cloud decoration (Goryeo dynasty (918–1392))Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

Goryeo

The
Goryeo dynasty was founded in 918 and took control of most of the
Korean Peninsula by 936, ruling an area even greater than that of the
previous Unified Silla. A Chinese-style national examination for
officials was implemented to bring new clans into the government. Representative types of crafts from the Goryeo period include ceremonial objects used in Buddhist temples, metalwares and lacquerwares. Most of all, Goryeo is known for its ceramic art, especially celadon ware, which saw its heyday between the first half of the 11th century and early 13th century. The creation of the sanggam ceramic inlay technique reached a peak around the mid-12th ceuntury. 

With a flaring lip, a long neck and a pear-shaped round body, this delicate bottle is of almost perfect symmetry.

An incised double-line with a band of yeouidu (cloud-shaped wish-granting symbols) encircle the bottle at the sloping shoulders...

...and stylized cloud symbols adorn the bulging sides of the vessel.

The bottom section is encircled with a band of lotus petals, arranged in two rows. The glaze has a bluish-green tinge and crackles, denser in the bottom area. The glaze at the bottom of the bottle, as well as the foot and base has a brownish color as a result of overfiring. Marks from five silica chips, placed equidistant, can be seen inside and on the edge of the footrim. The elegant shape, the subtlety of the design and the jade-like color of the glaze are typical features of 12th century Goryeo celadon wares.

Painting (1890/1910) by UnknownMuseum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

Joseon

The Joseon dynasty was founded by General Yi Seong-gye in 1392 and had Hanseong (present-day Seoul) set up as its capital, where was once the capital of Baekje. The 500-year history can be looked into by dividing it into Early Joseon and Late Joseon according to the distinctive changes as a result of two major wars: Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s wars of aggression (1592-1598) and the Manchurian invasions (1627-1636).

Sparrow on bamboo in snow (1610/1668) by Cho SokMuseum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

Rendered in ink on ramie, this painting depicts a sleeping sparrow sitting on a bamboo branch in winter. The bird was painted in differing shades of ink without outline (also called the "boneless style").

Tiger/leopard and magpie painting (1800/1899) by UnknownMuseum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

Consisting of ink, colours and gold paint on paper, this image represents a typical subject of folk paintings (Korean: minhwa) of 19th century Korea - tiger and magpie. Set under a pine tree, the tiger is depicted in movement...

...looking back with an open mouth and a fierce expression at...

...the magpie that is flying above the tiger.

Gold paint was used for the bulging eyes; red was used for the snout, mouth and areas around the eyes.

The fur of the tiger has a leopard-pattern but was considered to represent a tiger.

Only the paws and legs are outlined; the fur was indicated with thin, fine brushstrokes creating texture.

The needles of the pine tree were painted in multiple layers.

Much attention was given to the detailed facial features and expressions of the tiger and the magpie. The painting is mounted on a vertical hanging scroll of Korean traditional paper (Korean: hanji).

Buncheong bowl with brushed slip decoration (1400/1599) by UnknownMuseum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

This thinly potted bowl has a flared lip. The sides taper down to the base in a straight line and curve slightly toward the foot. The surface of the bowl is decorated with white slip that was seemingly swiftly brushed onto the grey stoneware body of the vessel. The marks from the large, strong brush are evident and, naturally, become part of the decorative design. A greenish-tinged glaze covers the surface, leaving only the foot and base unglazed. The bowl bears firing scars of five clay pads on the interior and has traces of five clay pads on the footrim. This indicates that this bowl was fired in stack, one bowl on top of the other, as part of a batch of several bowls. Another bowl in the same batch probably broke during firing and a part had fused to the outer surface of this bowl. This bowl is probably a kiln waster - a piece of ceramic that did not fire successfully.

Painting (1890/1910) by UnknownMuseum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

This half-length portrait of a scholar was rendered in ink and colours on paper. The sitter is portrayed in frontal view dressed in a white coat (Korean: durumagi)...

...and an elaborate headdress. The coat...

...probably made from cotton, has a reinforced collar (Korean: git)...

...and is fastened with ties above the right side of the chest. A separate cord tied with a knot in front of the chest also holds the coat together.

The headdress consists of three parts which were all made from woven horsehair – a headband (Korean: manggeon) of which the lower edge can be seen on the forehead...

...an inner cap (Korean: tanggeon), and the actual hat in the shape of a crown with three peaks (Korean: jeongjagwan). This type of headdress would typically have been worn indoors by scholars.

Painting (1914) by UnknownMuseum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

20th Century

Korea was annexed to Japan
after the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910. Korean independence was finally achieved on August 15th, 1945, after Japan surrendered to Allied forces and with the help of the existing independence movement. The Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950, when North Korea, supported by China and the Soviet Union, attacked South Korea, supported mainly by the United States. A ceasefire was agreed on 27 July 1953, and a buffer, known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone, was created. The ceasefire continues to this day. Many forms for traditional arts and crafts continue to be practiced on the Korean Peninsula.  The North Korean state supports Communist propaganda artworks. The official Mansudae Art Studio produces much of this propaganda through performing arts, as well as visual arts, such as graphics and sculpture. South Korea, has set up various institutions and laws to protect Korean cultural heritage. Contemporary South Korean artists and designers, such as Do Ho Suh, are now in the global arts scene, and Korean diaspora artists, such as Nam June Paik from America, also have a presence on the international art stage.

This portrait by artist Chae Yong-sin (1850-1941) shows Jeong Seong-geun (1876-?) in front view, sitting on a chair and wearing a...

...two-tiered scholar's hat with three peaks (Korean: jeongjagwan)...

...a blue robe (Korean: po) and...

...traditional men's shoes (Korean: taesahye). The chair is covered with a fur and stands on a patterned floor mat.

Both hands of the sitter are visible – the right hand is depicted holding a fan and the left hand rests on the knee. By using white and blue colours in the robe to create shading, the painter achieved a three-dimensional effect in the representation of the folds of the fabric.

For the portrayal of the face and the hands, numerous thin lines were drawn to express three-dimensionality.

In the upper right an inscription states that this painting portrays Jeong Seong-geun at the age of 40 (山泉齋主人鄭成根四十歲眞像).

To the left, another inscription indicates that this work was painted by Chae Yong-sin in the year 1914 (開國五百二十三年甲寅六月上澣從二品前郡守蔡龍臣號石芝寫).

This inscription is followed by two rectangular relief seals one placed above the other. The upper seal reads "Seokji" (石芝), which is the sobriquet of the artist; the lower seal reads "Seal of Chae Yongsin, Governor of Jeongsan County" (定山郡守蔡龍臣印章).

In the upper right corner, there are red ink splatters in two locations. The silk fabric consists of three parts that were sewn together with fine stitches.

Chae Yong-sin, a military official, showed remarkable talent at painting and was a well-established portrait painter after he painted the portrait of the first King Taejo of the Joseon Dynasty (r. 1335-1408) in 1900 and then one of the 26th King Gojong (r. 1863-1907) in 1901. He was later consecutively appointed governor of Chilgok and Jeongsan. In Jeongsan he made the acquaintance of a well-known patriot called Choi Ik-hyeon (1833-1906) and later became his follower. During this time, and especially from the year 1910 when Korea was annexed by Japan, Chae Yong-sin painted many portraits of Choi Ik-hyeon and his fellow patriots. Chae Yong-sin is renowned for painting realistic portraits by using a technique of highly detail brushwork and strong colours.

The sitter in the painting named Jeong Seong-geun was most likely a follower of Choi Ik-hyeon who fought in the Righteous Army (Korean: uibyeong; an irregular army resisting the Japanese forces). There are almost no written records about Jeong Seong-geun, however, a person of the same name is mentioned in one historical record which contains the information that Yun Hang-sik, Jeong Seong-geun and An Gi-seob issued plans for building an ancestral shrine for Choi Ik-hyeon. Considering that Chae Yong-sin, Choi Ik-hyeon and Jeong Seong-geun were all contemporaries and that Chae Yong-sin is known to have maintained close ties with the patriots and to have painted their portraits, it can be assumed that the sitter in the painting is the same Jeong Seong-geun as named in the aforementioned historical record.

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