Wind in the Pines... 5000 years
of Korean Art
1 June 2010 the exhibition Wind in the Pines. 5000 years of Korean art representing masterpieces from the collection of the National Museum of Korea was opened at the Winter Palace in the Nicholas Hall. "Wind in the Pines" is a name of an old melody performed by a traditional stringed instrument komungo. In the Korean poetry the sound of wind blowing among the tops of century-old trees, now dull and then singing, symbolized the clearest and uplifting sound. The art of Korea is a reflection of the live soul of its talented people, encompassing enormous creative energy and bringing about the concept of beauty.
The exhibition is organized by the State Hermitage conjointly with the National Museum of Korea involving the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism of Korea, the General Consulate of Korea in Saint Petersburg, the Visit Korea Committee with financial support from the Chosunilbo. It is the first time the Korean art has been represented so fully and comprehensively in not only Saint Petersburg but Russia.
The display includes 354 items featuring artifacts from the late Stone Age to the New Time: the finds from the excavations of royal burial mounds; Buddhist sculptures of 7th-16th centuries; ceramics and porcelain of 3rd-18th centuries; silk-made scrolls with Buddhist plots, genre painting, portraits and some artifacts of applied art, written samples and old printed books. Twelve items hold the status of National Treasure.
Korea is the country of ancient distinctive civilization. The earliest memorials manifesting the formation of artistic thinking date back to the late Stone Age (6000 - 1000 B.C.). Ceramic hand-molded and fire-burnt ceramic pots reveal the typological similarity with the late Stone Age artifacts from neighboring regions. Ceramics with the "comb" ornament was widely spread since the 4th century. Cone-like, sharp-bottom pots with scratched stripes resembling the comb's traces were remarkable for their simplicity of forms and geometrical rigidity of the pattern.
Among the items of the Bronze Age (1000 B.C - 300 A.D.) on display are the main types of archeological finds relating to this period. Horse-shaped belt hooks emerging under the influence of the "beast" style of nomadic people of Northern Eurasia. Thin composite dagger se with an outstanding nervure reinforcing the blade (such type of daggers was invented directly in Korea). Bronze mirrors with geometrical patterns of the finest engraved lines. Bells used in the ceremony of worshipping ancestors' spirits.
In the end of the 1st century B.C. three state formations appeared on the territory of Korean peninsula: Kogure - on the north of the peninsula, Pekche and Silla - on the south. This period, known as the Three States Period, lasted until the 7th century when the entire country was united under Silla. Artistic process in Kogure, Pekche and Silla evolved non-synchronously but mutual contacts and influence of the cultures of China, India and Sasanid Iran enriched the art of Three States.
Items found in the excavations of states' governors and noblemen manifest the complication of religious concepts and the sophistication of technologies for applying various materials. There appeared ceramic pots shaped as an animal or a human which were used in the burial ritual or in the ceremony of worshipping ancestors’ spirits. It is believed that they symbolized the desire for the safe ascension to the heaven of a spirit of the deceased, and upon the completion of the ceremony they were placed in the grave of the deceased.
Golden adornments found in the tombs of Silla governers are world-renowned: bracelets, earrings, rings, belts and six crowns, one of which is put on display. It is believed that the crowns made of fine gold leafs found in the burials were the copies of other crowns of greater strength used in festive ceremonies during the king’s life. The crown shaped as a hoop with images of symbols of life, tree and deer, may be related to the beliefs of nomadic people of the North.
In the end of the 4th century Kogure accepted Buddhism from China which later spread along the entire Korean peninsula making a significant impact in the formation of the artistic conscience of that period. Archeological finds in the territory of palace and temple complexes manifest the usage of Buddhist images and symbols in the decoration of buildings. Bricks and cover tiles on display are decorated with lotus flowers which in Buddhist teachings impersonate pureness, and with bodhisattva and celestial figures, masks of a fantastic beast which served as amulets protecting against the evil. The interiors of Buddhist monasteries were decorated by mural paintings and sculpture plastic art which reveal the concepts of world creation and encompass such ideas as mercy, compassion and spiritual self-enrichment. There appeared the images of Buddha Shakhamuni professing the Teachings, Maytreya - the Buddha of the future, multiple bodhisattvas who took vows to relieve people from suffering. Early samples of Korean plastic art were created under the influence of China under the ruling of the Northern Wey dinasty (386-534). Bronze statues of Kogure, Pekche and Silla are notable for their awkwardness of gestures, constraint of postures, statical concept and, at the same time, they are characterized by fineness and subtle charm of the antiquity. Ideas and images new to Korean states were also assumed and used as the basis for forming distinctive features in the local plastic art over 6th-7th centuries. Maytreya, one of the most esteemed bodhisattvas, the Buddha of the future, is depicted with regard to local traditions and concepts of ideal beauty: the proportions of the figure are made longer, the statics is disrupted by a slight deflection of the body, the incorporeity became the expression of spirituality.
Since the period of uniting Three States in the year 668 the development of culture and art gained a new impulse. Introduction of the nationwide language and writing fostered the removal of differences between remote regions. As a result of intensifying contacts with Tang China new products and new ideas emerged in the country from the outside. The power of the Buddhist church procuring the craftsmen and artists with orders furthered the uplift of Korean art, in particular, the sculpture plastic art in the 8th century. Greater style uniformity is inherent to the sculpture of the United Silla, expanding the scope of plots and the means of expression.
In the end of the 9th-10th centuries the country experienced internal wars which resulted in the Silla descension and founding the Kore State (918-1392). In the 11th-12th centuries the greater influence was gained by the Chang Buddhist school which rendered the least meaning to rituals and canonic imaging. Decline in the orders for Buddhist sculpture caused the change in the types and genres of Kore art. Small plastic art and applied arts took the leading role. The most prominent artistic phenomenon of that period was ceramics. Thin-wall pots of various shapes and purposes were covered in pale bluish green glaze. In Korea this color was called pisek, "the color of halcyon". Later in Europe such pots were called the celadon, by the name of a character from French pastoral novels of the 17th century who wore the clothes of pale green color. Various, to some extent innovative, techniques were used in decorating celadons: relief molding, stamping, subglaze painting by ferrous and copper paints, encrustation by sangham color clays.
In 1392 the country was united under Lee Songhe, the founder of the new dynasty Lee. The country was renamed to Choson, "the country of the morning freshness". Confucianism gained official support which led to the significant constraint, practicality and unartfulness of culture and arts. One of the most important events in the cultural history of the country was the invention of Korean alphabet and movable metallic print in the 15th century. There began works on translating into Korean and publishing classical Confucian writings. Within the kings’ court a special agency was formed which supervised artists and sculptors, the Tokhvavon Academy of painting (later renamed to Tokhvaso). The painting was recognized as the main type of graphic arts since a skillful use of a paintbrush was believed to be one of the Confucian virtues. Poets, scientists and even politicians engaged in painting and took well-deserved place in the history of Korean art.
By the 15th century the genre structure of scroll painting was formed. The leading position was held by the "flowers-birds" genre, closely associated with calligraphy, and monochrome landscape in its traditional kind formed in China. Later there appeared animalistic painting, portrait and genre art. Paintings were made on silk and paper with water soluble paints (semitransparent or dense, similar to gouache). The most valued was the black ink rich in shades and tone nuances ensuring dry stroke and soft stain. The painting "Riding a donkey" by a renowned artist Kham Yundok (second half of the 16th century) is a good example of ink painting. A silhouette of a traveler engrossed in thinking is drawn by a moving line against the tree background painted by broad free stroke. There is an impression that the painting reproduces the episode from the poem of Tang poet Zheng Tsishang "When a snow storm spreads, I ride on the donkey’s back".
In Korea, like in no other country of the Far East, the portrait had such a significant role. The development of portrait dates back to early centuries A.D. when Kogure artists made portraits of the deceased in the burial chambers. Later, under the ruling of Lee dynasty, portrait painting reached such a high level of artistry. Official secular portraits are noted for their realistic interpretation of faces, the accuracy of silhouettes, and decorative elaboration of costumes.
Landscape painting of the 18th century mainly honors the homeland nature. Close attention to Korean landscapes and the beauty of mountains are intrinsic to the landscapes of Chong Song (1676-1759). The picture "View of Chonyansa temple" made for a fan depicts not a contemplative landscape as it was traditional before but quite a real landscape.
In the 18th century genre painting grew popular. Kim Khondo (1745 - after 1816) depicted the life of common people, such as lessons in the Confucian school or the traditional fight of the orphaned. Sing Yunbok (1758 - ?) sharply emphasized the subtlety of relationships between idle merry-makers and kisen dancers entertaining them.
Items of applied arts of Choson period are characterized by great craftsmanship and variety. Production of ceramics and porcelain were improved. In the beginning of Choson period the Kore celadon is replaced by punchkhong ceramics. Punchkhong pots have the crock of grey and grey-and-white color, therefore items were covered by engobe (white clay) upon which an ornament was applied with paints or curved. Unlike Kore period celadons, punchkhong pots are remarkable for their decor simplicity, freedom and artistry. Korean porcelain is traditionally divided into white (pekche) and painted. Since the 15th century the porcelain with subglaze cobalt painting was produced which was initially delivered from Iran through China, and then they learnt to produce it from local ore minerals. By the 16th century items painted with blue cobalt became the main artifacts of Korean ceramic stoves.
Khvaghak technique can be considered a unique technique invented in Korea and used in craftsmanship, which is a polychrome painting on thin plates made of a buffalo horn. This technique was popular in the late Choson period and applied in the decor of mostly "women's" items such as cases for sewing, cabinets and chests of drawers.
In relation to the exhibition a scientific illustrated catalogue and a booklet were prepared by the Publishing office of the State Hermitage. Among the exhibitions managers are Tatiana Arapova, the leading research associate of the Department of the East of the State Hermitage and Anna Savelieva, the research associate of the Department of the East of the State Hermitage.