[KS] for Hyung Il Pai -- cultural object circulation in the late Choson Dynasty

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Thu Sep 30 23:55:04 EDT 2010

  p o s t e d  for Dr. Hyung Il Pai, who has presently problems  
accessing her subscribed email acct. for teh list ..

Dear Andre,
Korean ceramics esp Koryo and early Yi dynasty period wares were  
desired by the  Japanese for use as tea bowls going back to the time  
of Hideyoshi. However, in the domestic market,
as far as I know ceramics only became bon fide collectors items only  
in the modern era beginning in the late 19th century.
Before then, just like elites in China and Japan since the Song  
dynasty, the majority of catalogues, and the few paintings Gari  
mentions and records indicate that Yangban favored books, documents,  
paintings, stone/bronze inscriptions (금석문), seals, and equipment for  
calligraphy (문방구) circulated amongst antiquarians regardless of  
country's origins. Ceramics generally as far as I know was regarded as  
everyday dish-ware and not decorative item or heirlooms.
Koryo ceramics went out of production by the 14th century according to  
archaeological data from kiln sites. The punwon system produced white,  
and blue-whites for the court which picked the best quality and then  
the rest were re-distributed to the aristocracy since the 18th century  
but were already in the decline by the 1860s due to environmental  
devastations such as loss of firewood and good clay sources around  
Ritual-ware  for chesa were made of brass and bronze.

Following the Russo-Japanese War, Koryo dynasty royal tombs around  
Kaesong were plundered by professional tomb raiders and middle-men who  
supplied the growing numbers of second -hand shops that opened for  
business in the newly opened ports in Pusan, Wonsan, Inchon and Seoul.
A few prominent antiquities dealers based in Tokyo and Seoul were  
selling to  major Japanese industrialists such as Ogura and Sumitomo  
families who were emulating the tastes and preferences of Victorian  
era foreign diplomats who had decorated their living rooms with  
"Orientalists Decor"- a fad that peaked during the Golden era of  
Expositions in the 1880s.
A widely circulated story about Ito Hirobumi in the Korean art  
historical literatue claims that he hired looters to dig up Koryo  
celadon so he could send them to the Imperial household as souvenirs.  
Around 1907, he showed a celadon vase to King Kojong, who asked him,  
"Which country it came from?"
Therefore, the concept of Collecting, exhibiting, and the display of  
arts/crafts as models of "national art objects" were mostly introduced  
by colonial era archaeologists, art historians, and museum curators  
who set up the first public fine arts museums such as the Yi Royal  
Museum ( 1909) and the Colonial Governer-General Museum in 1915.
The next generation of professional collectors were the Asakawa  
brothers (Hakkyo and Takumi) and Yanagi Soetsu who were the first to  
periodize, classify and date Korean ceramics and most importantly  
evaluate the monetary worth of Korean ceramics, especially celadon.  
They popularized the fad for collecting  "Mingei" or (Folk Art) from  
N.E.A . Folk art from Korea including furniture, lacquer etc. were  
shipped abroad as well as were exhibited to wide acclaim  at  
expositions pavillions and museum galleries . By, the 1930s, Koryo  
celadon were considered very desirable souvenirs but most tourist  
guidebooks write they were terrible over-priced and most sold in art  
shops were fakes and buyers be warned.
The three connoirsseurs organized exhibitions, sales and auctions of  
plundered Korean ceramics and antiquities at Japanese department  
stores such as Takashimaya in the 1930s.
According to a recent journalistic account, this was the era when the  
majority of  over 70, 000 museums objects residing in foreign museums  
in both  public and private collections left Korea

Therefore, I believe ceramics was not circulated as objects of study  
or desire before the 1890s inside Korea. Esp, grave looting of royal  
tombs of early kings would have been considered a grave sin in the Yi  

A final caveat I want to interject here is , because  the topic of the  
movement of cultural properties is such a controversial topic in  
Korea, and I am not an art historian by training, I want to state that  
this is only my personal opinion and does not reflect the main stream  
accounts of the development and appreciation of Korean arts.
If you need biblio sources, I can email them to you.

Hyung Il Pai
Fulbright Senior Research Fellow 2010-11
Korean-American Educational Commission
Fulbright Building
168-15 Yomni-dong, Mapo-gu
Seoul 121-874
<mailto:Email%3Ahyungilpai at gmail.com>Email:hyungilpai at gmail.com

Hyung Il Pai
Fulbright Senior Research Fellow 2010-11
Korean-American Educational Commission
Fulbright Building
168-15 Yomni-dong, Mapo-gu
Seoul 121-874
<mailto:Email%3Ahyungilpai at gmail.com>Email:hyungilpai at gmail.com

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