|'Lacquered Statue of Buddhist Monk Huirang,' who was teacher of Goryeo founder Wang Geon, is on display at the 'Goryeo: The Glory of Korea' exhibition at the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan, Seoul. The national museum placed an empty lotus-shaped pedestal next to Master Huirang's statue for the Wang Geon statue in the Korean Central History Museum in Pyongyang. Yonhap|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
This nation's name Korea is derived from an exonym of the 918-1392 Goryeo Kingdom, one of the ancient countries that reigned over the Korean peninsula. Best known for its beautiful jade-colored celadon as well as woodblock and metalloid typography techniques, Goryeo is the first country to rule most of the Korean Peninsula and improve its foundation for cultural and economic expansion.
The National Museum of Korea (NMK) holds an exhibition to commemorate this less-noticed part of Korea's history.
Titled "Goryeo: The Glory of Korea," NMK director general Bae Ki-dong said the exhibit is "the finale of the national museum's year-long project celebrating the 1,100th anniversary of Goryeo Kingdom in 2018. Though it might not be perfect, we put much effort into this exhibition. This is likely to be the largest of its kind in 100 years."
This exhibit features over 450 paintings, sculptures, celadon and craftworks borrowed from about 40 organizations from four countries, including the United States and Italy.
The exhibition is divided into four sections ― "Gaegyeong, Capital of Goryeo"; "Wisdom of 1,100 Years"; "A Place for Tea"; and "The Brilliant Technical and Design Expertise of Goryeo."
"People might remember Goryeo as a short-lived country, but in fact the 474-year history of Goryeo is on par with the Joseon Kingdom which lasted for 518 years. We are more familiar with cultural heritage from Joseon, but much of Joseon's culture is based on the legacy of Goryeo," said Yoo Su-ran, curator of the exhibit.
The curator said this exhibit centers on the cultural history of Goryeo, which is better known as a country of warriors. "During the Goryeo era, commercial and cultural trade was frequent and we shed light on how Goryeo absorbed foreign cultures through exchanges," Yoo said.
|"Parcel Gilt-silver Ewer with Basin" is on view at the "Goryeo: The Glory of Korea" exhibition at the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan, Seoul. / Courtesy of National Museum of Korea|
Exhibit showcases art, history of Goryeo
Upon entering the Special Gallery of the NMK, visitors will be introduced to Byeokrando, the main port of Goryeo close to its capital Gaegyeong, now Kaesong, or Gaeseong, in North Korea.
"Gaegyeong was a metropolis of over 100,000 households with quite a number of foreign residents. Artifacts showing international aspects of the city are on view here," curator Yoo explained.
A "Bronze Mirror with the Inscription of 'Hwangbichangcheon'" show bears waving and a ship pattern symbolizing the sea and voyage. Islamic style "Glass vessel" and "Celadon Bag-shaped Ewer" excavated from Gaeseong showcase result of trade and foreign influences in the Goryeo era.
A map of Gaeseong from 19th century Joseon gives a glimpse of the port city with its outer wall and inner wall.
"Since we cannot visit Gaeseong now, the city remains vague and abstract to South Koreans. So we present this map to provide a geographic image of Gaegyeong."
Goryeo was founded by Wang Geon, also known as King Taejo of Goryeo, who achieved unification of the Later Three Kingdoms.
The statue of Master Huirang, a monk who helped the Goryeo founder to build up the nation, is on display outside its home Haeinsa Temple in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang Province, for the first time.
"This is the only remaining statue of a monk from the 10th century. The front is made of dry lacquer, while the back is wood. The statue is very realistic with asymmetric shoulders as if modeled after the actual person," the curator explained.
The NMK attempted to showcase Master Huirang's statue with a bronze statue of Wang Geon from the Korean Central History Museum in Pyongyang, but historic encounter fell through as the negotiations with the North Korea didn't go as expected. The museum placed an empty lotus-shaped pedestal next to Master Huirang's statue as a nod to the master-pupil relations and hope for possible loan from the North.
Another important cultural asset that the NMK attempted to borrow, but didn't make for this exhibition is the Jikji, the world's oldest extant book printed with movable metal type dating back to 1377 currently kept at the National Library of France in Paris.
|"Celadon Fish Dragon-shaped Ewer"|
Like most countries, Goryeo's royal court art was the highest art with the most difficult techniques. Goryeo was a country of banquets, including the Pangwanhoe (Festival of the Eight Vows). During such events, foreign envoys and merchants presented the Goryeo king and attended banquets.
Celadon ceramics of intricate patterns and animal shapes were assumed to be used in such parties. "Celadon Fish Dragon-shaped Ewer" demonstrates creativity of Goryeo potters, while "Parcel gilt-silver Ewer with Basin" showcases the height of metal craft.
Xu Jing, a member of diplomatic mission to Goryeo from Northern Song in 1123, stayed in Goryeo for about a month and wrote a travelogue "Illustrated Account of the Xuanhe Embassy to Goryeo," describing what he saw and heard during his trip.
In Xu's surviving writings, he mentioned the unique green color of Goryeo celadon and elaborateness of mother-of-pearl works and craftworks similar to those appear in Xu's travel journal are on view at the exhibit.
"Gaegyeong was also the center of trade where goods and supplies from across the nation gathered. A variety of Chinese ceramics, clearly differentiated from Goryeo style, are also unearthed in Gaeseong as aristocrats had eclectic tastes in collecting," the curator said.
|'Woodblock of the Avatamsaka Sutra' carved in 1098|
Buddhism was the state religion in the Goryeo period and left the Tripitaka Koreana, also known as Palman Daejanggyeong in Korean. The Buddhist scriptures carved onto some 80,000 wooden printing blocks are the oldest intact version of Buddhist canon in Chinese characters.
"Though the woodblock carving of Buddhist scriptures is mostly known to have been created in hopes of overcoming foreign powers during wars, we saw these scriptures as the repository of knowledge. Buddhism was initiated in India and conveyed to Korea via China and these Buddhist scriptures have become an agglomeration of information and knowledge as it traveled through countries," the curator said.
The famous Tripitaka Koreana could not leave its depository in the Haeinsa Temple, the oldest existing woodblock of the Avatamsaka Sutra carved in 1098 is on view at the Seoul museum.
"Most of Goryeo temples were demolished and reconstructed during Joseon Kingdom. So the portable shrines from Goryeo era give us a glimpse of the architectural style of Goryeo temples. They also represent Goryeo people's Buddhist faith as they used these portable shrines to pray at home," Yoo said.
The exhibit sheds light on various types of Buddha statues from lacquered fabric to steel and bronze.
Some of Goryeo Buddha statues have clothes and other artifacts enshrined in them, providing rare examples of Goryeo fabric and clothing culture. "Bhaishajyaguru from Janggoksa Temple" has a 10-meter-long prayer written on a fabric piece by Monk Gyeonghan. Also written on the cloth are names of those who donated for making of the Buddha's image and their wishes.
"Avalokiteshvara with a Thousand Hands" maximizes the compassion of the Amitabha Buddha. "Avalokiteshvara statues usually have about 40 hands, each hand holding objects representing wishes such as sayings of Buddha or treasure," the curator explained.
|'Bhaishajyaguru from Janggoksa Temple'|
People of Goryeo enjoyed tea and the tea-enjoying culture boosted development of celadon making in the country for tea utensils. Gorgeous celadon ewers and cups are assumed to be used for drinking tea.
Artisan potters of Goryeo created unique "bisaek," or the jade color, of celadon using a thin glaze. They also used a variety of techniques to decorate the celadon using materials such as copper and gold.
Goryeo metalsmiths developed a milling technique to produce elaborate designs. For this exhibition, "Gilt-silver Gourd-shaped Bottle" is displayed with "Gilt-silver Ring" as a stand.
The exhibit wraps up with one of the most important legacies of Goryeo ― the metal movable type.
"Goryeo is the country that owns the world's oldest metal type. This metal type block reading 'bok' is the only metal type from Goryeo in South Korea. We display it next to 'hangeul' metal type of the Joseon period to showcase how the technique has descended," curator Yoo said.
The exhibit runs through March 3. For more information, visit www.museum.go.kr