|Cultural Heritage Administrator Chung Jae-suk, right, hands over the stolen portrait of Grand Prince Ikan to Yi Seok-hee of the Jeonju Yi clan during a returning ceremony at the National Palace Museum of Korea, Tuesday. Yonhap|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
The stolen portrait of Grand Prince Ikan, South Chungcheong cultural heritage material no. 329, was returned to his descendents after 18 years of being unaccounted for.
The Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) held a returning ceremony at the National Palace Museum of Korea, Tuesday, and briefed those in attendance on the pursuit of lost cultural heritage.
The portrait disappeared in January 2000 from Yeongjeonggak, a royal portrait hall of the Jeonju Yi clan in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, where Joseon royal portraits are enshrined.
CHA head Chung Jae-suk handed over the portrait in a newly built paulownia box to Yi Seok-hee of the Yi clan and gave her appreciation to the determined pursuit of the heritage investigation division.
"We felt guilt for losing such an important family heritage. Now we are happy and relieved to have the portrait returned," Yi said at the ceremony.
The 168-centimeter-high and 82-centimeter-wide portrait on silk captures Grand Prince Ikan in red official attire and is assumed to have been created in 1734 under King Yeongjo's reign, copying a previous version of the portrait.
"The painting is in typical Joseon noble portrait style and we can compare it with his father King Taejo's portrait to assume his brother King Jeongjong and Taejong's appearances," the CHA said.
Grand Prince Ikan (1360-1404), whose name is Yi Bang-ui, was the third son of King Taejo, the founder of the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom. He is the younger brother of Joseon's second King Jeongjong and older brother of the third, King Taejong.
According to the "Annals of the Joseon Kingdom," Grand Prince Ikan is described as a well-tempered, gentle person, who was a long way from being showy or gaudy.
He is known for being less ambitious among King Taejo's sons, but helped his brother Bang-won, later known as King Taejong, in the Strife of Princes.
The CHA said a professional burglar of cultural assets stole the portrait from the Yi clan's vault and sold it to an antique dealer in Busan. The dealer smuggled the painting to Japan to forge a fake transaction document as part of a scheme of good faith acquisition.
The painting returned to Korea in July 2000 and the thief and dealer were all taken into custody, but the portrait's location was unknown. Last year, the CHA obtained intelligence that the portrait remained in Korea and persuaded the owner to return it.
In 2007, cultural properties were excluded from good faith acquisitions and ownership of stolen cultural assets is not acknowledged anymore even though the buyer did not know in advance the portrait was stolen.