The Natural World: Tigers in Korean art

Animals have long throughout history been known for being associated as important symbols in societies all around the world. From the worshipping of cats as gods in ancient Egypt, to cattle in India, the tiger is regarded by many throughout Korea to be a sacred creature who guards and protects its people. Images of the tiger can be found all around Asia and was even the official mascot of the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul. Its symbolic origins can be traced trough folklore and tales in Korean history and as such plays a pivotal role in Korean culture and art today.  The artwork Featured in this gallery has been taken from many points in Korean history. This includes the Joseon Dynasty period which saw the advent of tigers in Korean art and where the folklore of tigers really took hold, as well as tigers featured in the many centuries of art afterwards to our present day. This will give a sense of the changes in the way that tigers have been depicted throughout history.  This set of gallery pieces showcases the aesthetic of Korean art and design. The Korean culture and its evolution can be seen through the changing art styles that Korean art has gone through from the very traditional natural paintings of the Joseon Dynasty period to the modern styles that reflect Korean culture today. The Tiger will always be commemorated as a sacred symbol in Korea, whether its though stories or art, and so reflects the natural world and its importance in Korea.      Linda. "Korean Language Blog." The Importance of Being a Tiger- Tiger Motifs in Korean Art. N.p., 23 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.     "Seated Arhat." Kimbell Art Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.     "Recent Acquisitions." Tiger by Hwang Jong-ha. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Tigers and magpies is one of the iconic subject matters of Korean folk painting. A magpie is chirping on the top right hand corner and on the centre is a tiger, almost filling the entire painting. The tiger's body is especially exaggerated and its face looks rather silly so that it seems more familiar than authoritative. The magpie, on the other hand, is painted in a livelier manner, making it look as if the magpie, which represents ordinary people, is scolding the tiger, representing corrupt officials. Originally, tigers and magpies were both symbols for good fortune, but they developed into a major theme in folk paintings as their relationship became more and more satirical. (Tiger and Magpie)
Here is another painting featuring the Tiger and Magpie. These paintings will also sometimes feature a pine tree which the case for this painting. The more acceptable name for this type of painting is known as Minhwa which means, Korean folk painting. Minhwas cover more subjects than tigers tough tigers are commonly featured in them. )Tiger and Magpie)
This jar which dates back to the Joseon dynasty has been excellently preserved and showcases the quality of which Joseon pottery was made. The artwork on the jar depicts clouds with the common tiger subject seen before though the only difference in this piece and the others is that the magpie is replaced by a crane, which probabley has the same representational meaning that the magpie does. (Tiger and Magpie)
Another common theme in Minhwas was to depict an imortal or high priest making a tiger lie flat on the ground, in many cases under a pine tree. This symbolism of taming a tiger may be to show the viewer that tigers should not be feared but rather revered. (Tiger lying flat)
This painting by Kim Hong-do depicts a high priest riding a tiger, which could be another stage in the taming of a tiger after it is laid flat. We can also see that well into the 18th century, the style of which these minhwas were painted has stayed relatively the same using traditional styles and slightly exaggerated features. (Tiger in religion)
MInhwas were one of the main art forms in Joseon Korea but sculptures could be found as well depicting the tiger. This one dating back to the Joseon period features a buddhist monk seated with a tamed tiger. An Arhat is one of a group of “perfected beings” who, in the Buddhist faith, were the original disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Like bodhisattvas, arhats have attained perfection but have delayed entering nirvana and becoming buddhas so that they may aid others in seeking enlightenment. Arhats were regarded as having achieved extraordinary spiritual levels that endowed them with superhuman capabilities. This sculpture reflects the importance of Buddhism in Korea and shares the theme of taming a tiger that Korean minhwas depicted. (Tiger in religion)
Tigers continued to remain prevalent in Korean art well after the end of the Joseon Dynasty. This painting, one of many numerous tiger paintings done by artist Hwang Jong-ha during the colonial period, depicts a tiger leisurely resting in grass. Hwangs style of art reflects the minhwas of the past of a soft warmth in his painting but with a modern understanding of tigers and their anatomy. Hwangs' paintings are heavily influenced by Japanese art styles. Perhaps this slightly coded node to Korean tradition, which is grafted onto contemporary styles from the West and Japan, was Hwang’s attempt to keep the flame of Korean culture alive during a trying period of cultural assault associated with the Japanese occupation. This showcases the changing styles of art in Korea. (Modern Tiger)
A modern example of Tigers in Korean art is this sculpture of a prowling tiger by Park, Chan Girl in 2008. The artist is known for both small and large scale sculptures making use of sheets of metal and negative space to create volume and form and depending on which direction you view the sculpture form, its story changes. (Modern Tiger)
Little could be found on the meaning of this painting done by Lee Seungae, though the style of which it is done heavily reflects the modern styles of Korean painting infusing certain styles from the past. The visual look of the painting and its name gives a sense that a battle is currently taking place with the scene nearly forming the shape of a tiger. Blood coming from its mouth indicates it was on the attack. The owls and magpie look as if they are under attack by a warrior featured on the tigers body. The warrior looks as if he is based of a Japanese warrior and reflects some elements of Japanese influence. This could possibly represent the occupation of Korea by Japan and their conflict. (Modern Tiger)
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