Korean Arts

By | November 7, 2021


Korean art, the art of the Korean Peninsula. Despite some strong Chinese influence, it has its own character.

Prehistoric period

Since the 1970s, numerous archaeological finds have shown that Korea was already settled in the Paleolithic. From about 6000 to 2000 BC The Neolithic epoch, which is called the “period of the comb ceramics” according to the decor of its ceramics, is sufficient. Neolithic products were hewn or ground stone tools such as axes, wedges, arrowheads and large, flat stones for grinding grain as well as fish hooks, needles, combs and pointed clay vessels with a comb pattern. The comb pottery (Chŭlmun-t’ogi; Chulmuntogi), found mainly in western coastal areas, is made of clay strips and bulges in a ring shape. The surface of the vessels is decorated with incised patterns in horizontal bands on the neck and is similar to the early Jômon pottery in Japan. Around the 7th century BC V-shaped vessels emerged in BC, which are called Mumun-t ‘ ogi (Mumuntogi; decor-free ceramics). There was also the v. a. Red pottery (Hongt’o; Hongtogi) found in Hamgyŏng Province (Hamgyeong) with a polished coating of red ocher.

Early examples of bronze art (from 1300 BC) include daggers and lances, shoulder guards, multi-part rattles with sticks and, above all, mirrors with a fine or coarse geometric pattern. Many bronzes show animal motifs similar to those in the Ordos region. In the 2nd century AD, gray hard-fired ceramics with a bluish shimmer (Kimhae ceramics) were created in southeast Korea, made from finer clay on the turntable and fired at temperatures of over 1,000 ° C. The later Silla ceramics developed from it.

Three kingdoms

The North Korean kingdom of Koguryŏ (Goguryeo), which grew stronger in the 4th century AD, had close cultural ties with China. After the introduction of Buddhism (382) temples were built, but they have not been preserved. The few remaining Buddhist sculptures are strongly influenced by the contemporary Chinese sculpture. The chubby face shape of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas is characteristic of Koguryŏs Buddhist sculpture. Huge barrows (Kobun; Gobun) were created for kings or military leaders, the burial chambers of which have wall paintings (4th – 7th centuries). The graves were named after the motifs of their murals (“grave of wrestlers”, “grave of dancers” and others). In addition to symbols from Chinese cosmology, the earliest Korean portraits, Landscape images as well as genre representations are discovered. Detailed representations of interior fittings, stables, wagons and figures provide information about customs and fashion as well as the technological status of that time.

According to payhelpcenter, the Kingdom of Paekche in South West Korea had sea connections with South China and Japan. There were several waves of immigration to Japan from the early 5th to the 9th centuries. The Koreans not only brought the Buddhist doctrine with their writings and portraits to Japan, but also shaped the early Buddhist sculpture and temple architecture in Japan, of which little apart from a few sculptures and stone pagodas has survived. The preserved bricks with landscape scenes in relief testify to the quality of Paekche’s architecture. The Buddhist sculptures differ from those of Koguryŏs or Sillas by their gently smiling facial features. Since the first half of the 7th century there have also been Buddhist figures carved out of the smoothed rock walls, such as the Sŏsan triad (Seosan triad). The typical paekche pottery is a light gray clay ware, partly with a greenish glaze. Finds from the king’s tomb Munyŏng (Munyeong; 501–523) in Gyeongju document the highly developed goldsmith’s art (golden hair arrow with lotus decoration, bracelets, necklaces, etc.).

The kingdom of Silla in the south-east is known for rich additions of gold in the great barrows in the vicinity of Gyeongju. These objects, especially jewelry, were probably only used in rituals or funeral ceremonies and indicate the practice of shamanistic customs. Important works of Buddhist sculpture are the bronze head of a bodhisattva from the temple Hwangyŏng (Hwangyong) and the two bronze sculptures of the Bodhisattva Maitreya in a pensive posture, which are kept in the National Museum in Seoul. A special achievement of the old Silla period is the observatory (Ch’ŏmsŏngdae; Cheomseongdae) built in Gyeongju in 647.

United Silla

After successful campaigns of conquest against Paekche and Koguryŏ, the peninsula was politically united in 688 under the leadership of Silla. The capital became Gyeongju, which was lavishly expanded with temples and palaces. Buddhist art reached its peak in the second half of the 8th century with the construction of the artificial grotto temple Seokguram and the temple Bulguksa near Gyeongju. Large bells are characteristic of the bronze art of the time. Glazed clay reliefs with lotus or phoenix decor, but also with figurative Buddhist motifs, decorate the temples.

The Koryŏ dynasty

In 918 the Kingdom of Koryŏ (Goryeo) was established. In particular under King T’aejo (Taejo; 918–43), the founder of the dynasty, but also under his successors, numerous Buddhist temples were built in the capital Kaesŏng. The best known are the buildings of the temple Pusŏksa (Buseoksa). The almost 3 m high gold-plated clay sculpture of the Buddha Amitabha located in it is one of the most outstanding examples of the Koryŏ period Buddhist sculpture. In general, a tendency towards abstraction is noticeable in this epoch; among other things, the eyes of a Buddha image take the form of elongated slits. The multi-storey stone pagodas (tap) of the Koryŏ period have a more decorative character.

Art genres such as ink painting were largely wiped out by enemy attacks. Many works of Buddhist painting were brought to Japan either as spoils of war or as diplomatic gifts and kept in temples there. The perfect elaboration of the patterned brocade robes of the Buddhist figures is a testament to the high level of artistry of the Koryŏ painters. Among the most important artifacts of Koryŏdynastie include celadon, which were until recently admired as the only Korean art objects in the West and collected. In addition, the white porcelain was already produced in this epoch.

The Chosŏn dynasty

The capital of the Chosŏn or Yidynasty (Ioseon or Leedynasty) founded in 1392 by Yi Sŏng-gye (Lee Seonggye; * 1335, † 1408) became Hanyang (today’s Seoul). Some palace buildings, which were mostly rebuilt after the Japanese invasions by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1592–98) according to the old model, differ from the wooden architecture of the Koryŏ dynasty in their magnificent entablature with multi-tiered roofs and increasing oscillation of the ridge and eaves edges (e the palace buildings Tŏksukung [Deoksugung], Kyŏngbokkung [Gyeongbokgung] and Ch’anggyŏnggung [Changgyeonggung] in Seoul).

In addition to palaces, numerous Confucian shrines and city fortifications were built. Among the Buddhist wooden structures, the temple halls of Kŭmsansa and Hwaŏm-sa with their multiple roofs are noteworthy. Ceramics and white porcelains are predominant in the art of pottery. Punch’ŏngware (buncheongware), which was produced for everyday use, came from the 15th and 16th centuries. Century on. Its rustic, simple shape was particularly popular among Japanese tea masters. White porcelain, on the other hand, was mainly intended for court use and Confucian ceremonies. Under the influence of the Ming dynasty, white porcelain with blue underglaze painting came into fashion from the early 15th century, with the painting being carried out by court painters. An Kyŏn (An Gyeon; * around 1400, † 1464 or 1470) and Yi Sangjwa (Lee Sangjwa; * 1465 or 1488), as well as literary painters such as Kang Hui’an (Gong Hui-an; * 1419, † 1465) and the painter Shin Saimdang (* 1512, † 1559) and the bamboo painter Yi Chŏng the Elder (Lee Jeong the Elder; * 1541, † 1622). In the early 16th century, the academic painting style of the Chinese Zhe School came to Korea and was developed by Kim Che (Kim Si; * 1524, † 1593) and Yi Kyŏng-yun (Lee Kyeongyun; * 1545, † 1611) Koreanized. Around 1600 the so-called South School painting (Namjonghwa) was introduced from China. All three traditions, Kyŏn, Zhe and South School (Gyeon, Je and South School), were cultivated side by side in the 16th and 17th centuries, often even by the same painter. The powerful, broad brushwork is characteristic of Korean painting. Kim Myŏngguk (Kim Myeongguk; * 1600, † after 1662) and Yun Tusŏ (Yun Duseo; * 1668, † around 1720) stand out in the 17th century, but only in the 18th century did Chŏng Sŏn (Jeong, Seon; * 1676, † 1759) and Kim Hongdo (* 1760, † around 1820) developed a dynamic, independent Korean style. Chŏng Sŏn (Jeong Seon) became an epoch-making representative of the new style in Korean landscape painting, which is known as “Chingyŏng-sansu” (Jing yeong sansu; representation of true places). Kim Hongdo was v. a. versed in genre painting, showing the vigorous modeling and lively movement of each figure. Kang Se-hwang (Gang Sehwang; * 1713, † 1791) also played a central role in the literary painting of the 18th century. As a painter, art collector and calligrapher, Kim Chŏnghŭi (Kim Jeonghui; * 1786, † 1857) was the most important artistic personality of the 19th century.

Modern art

The Korean art of the 20th century shows a synthesis of traditional elements and Western styles. Park Seo-bo (Park Seobo; * 1931) is considered the leading figure in abstract painting. Ufan Lee (* 1936), who has lived and worked in Japan since 1956, attracted the attention of the Japanese avant-garde as an artist and art theorist, especially towards the end of the 1960s and during the 1970s. The best known international representative of Korean art is the video and happening artist Paik Nam June (* 1932). Younger up-and-coming artists who also enjoy international recognition include the pop artist Choi Jeong-Hwa (Choi Jeonghwa; * 1962), the media artist Kim Young-Jin (Kim Yeongjin; * 1961) as well as the artist Koo Jeong-A (Gu Jeonga; * 1967), who is known for her installations, and Lee Bul (* 1964), who works in the same field.

Korean Arts