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Special Exhibition 'Goryeo: The Glory of Korea'
Date2018-12-11 Hit2506

Special Exhibition Celebrating the

1100th Anniversary of the Establishment of Goryeo

Goryeo: The Glory of Korea

Date: December 4, 2018 March 3, 2019

Location: National Museum of Korea, Special Exhibition Gallery

Details: 450 works (19 National Treasures and 33 Treasures), including Amitabha Buddha from the National Museum of Oriental Art in Rome, Italy

Participating Institutions:

- Overseas: 11 institutions in 4 countries, including the British Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Tokyo National Museum; and Museum of Oriental Ceramics, Osaka

- Korea: 34 institutions, including Haeinsa Temple; Leeum Museum, Samsung; Horim Museum; and Kansong Art and Culture Foundation

Goryeo, Where the World Meets

The National Museum of Art (Director General Bae Kidong) is pleased to present Goryeo: The Glory of Korea, a comprehensive overview of art in the Goryeo Dynasty. Larger in scale than previous genre-specific exhibitions on Goryeo, this special exhibition brings together some 450 works, including works on loan from 45 institutions, including 11 institutions in the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, and Japan.

This year’s 1100th anniversary is particularly meaningful as there was no one to commemorate the 1000th year of Goryeo’s establishment in 1918 when Korea was under Japanese rule. National museums in Seoul and other regions have put on a series of thematic exhibitions to mark the occasion. Beginning with Jeju National Museum which launched the series with Sambyeolcho and East Asia in December 2017, Buyeo National Museum, Cheongju National Museum, Chuncheon National Museum, Mireuksaji National Museum, Jeonju National Museum, Daegu National Museum, Gongju National Museum, and others have held special exhibitions that catered to the characteristics of each museum. As the grand finale in the series, Goryeo: The Glory of Korea is the most ambitious exhibition in scale and quality, and the first comprehensive exhibition of Goryeo art since the Republic of Korea’s independence.

Goryeo (9181392) was founded by Wang Geon who successfully reunited a fractured nation and spawned a dynasty. For the first time in Korean history, the newly appointed capital of Gaegyeong was located in the center of the peninsula. From its seat of power, the Goryeo Dynasty took an open-minded approach to embracing the previous dynasties' cultural traditions during a period of upheaval in the East Asia. It also encouraged dynamic cultural exchanges with neighboring countries. Goods and people moved in and out of Goryeo freely, to the extent that foreigners were appointed as chief councilors. Goryeo maintained long-term diplomatic relations with the Song Dynasty (9601279) in mainland China, the Kitan-led Liao Dynasty (9161125), and the Jin Dynasty (11151234) of Jurchens. Later, Goryeo continued cultural and economic exchanges with the Yuan Dynasty (12711368) despite political interference from the latter whose vast empire stretched across Asia.

Exhibition Overview

The splendor of Goryeo art and its cultural achievements were made possible by dynamic exchanges with neighboring countries. This special exhibition tells the story of Goryeo’s cultural development in four themes.

The exhibition begins with the story of a city, “Gaegyeong, the Capital of Goryeo.” Goryeo's open attitude towards foreign nations as well as its many land and sea routes enabled a flow of diverse products and practices. This turned Gaegyeong into an international/cosmopolitan city frequented by foreigners, including Xu Jing (10911153) who entered the city in the sixth month of 1123 along with two hundred emissaries of Emperor Huizong. Xu Jing wrote about his month-long journey in Xuanhe fengshi Gaoli tujing (宣和奉使高麗圖經, Illustrated account of official mission during the Xuande reign), which offers a valuable portrayal of a vibrant, thriving country from a foreigner’s perspective.

Gaegyeong’s development is also intrinsically tied to courtly art which also flourished in the capital. "The Height of Beauty, Art of the Royal Court" features stunning artworks that symbolized the court’s stature. The court’s role as the most prominent patrons of art gave rise to a new and upgraded material culture of paintings, metalwork, lacquerware with mother-of-pearl inlay (known as najeon chilgi in Korean), celadon, and white porcelain made with the finest materials. Past the examples of courtly art and evidence of the busy, prosperous city of Gaegyeong where new cultures came together, the exhibition continues in the next room.

The second section ventures into hallowed grounds under the theme of “The Way to the Temple.” Although Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and other philosophies peacefully coexisted during the dynasty, Buddhist culture was the foundation for its greatest works of art. This section offers a look inside the mystical dimension of Goryeo culture embodying 1100 years of wisdom.

Buddhism’s contribution to Goryeo’s print culture is a major one. Goryeo had a long history of publishing and produced the world‘s first moveable metal types. It was used to print a collection of Buddhist teachings compiled by a Goryeo monk. Like medieval monks in Europe who spent their days transcribing the Christian Bible, Buddhist monks painstakingly copied sacred scriptures by hand. Goryeo developed moveable metal types, which changed the paradigm of the written word from handwriting to print. It is worth noting that in both the East and the West, print culture flourished through the medium of religious texts.

Tripitaka Koreana is the thirteenth century Korean collection of Buddhist scriptures carved onto 81,258 wooden blocks. In addition to its religious significance, Tripitaka Koreana represents humankind’s wisdom and desire to organize and transmit knowledge. The collection, enshrined at Haeinsa Temple, is like a library that pays tribute to the Goryeo people’s efforts to seek truth. The inclusion of Tripitaka Koreana in the exhibition is a reminder that the search for wisdom and yearning to communicate remain relevant in today’s world.

The exhibition also takes visitors on a pilgrimage to see Buddhist sculptures and paintings from the period. Goryeo’s distinctive yet multifaceted culture emerges even in these artworks focused on religious faith. The regional differences in Buddhist sculptures, votive relics interred inside the sculptures, and textiles preserved with Buddhist scriptures are important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to understanding Buddhist rituals in Northeast Asia. The Seated Bhaisajyaguru Buddha (Medicine Buddha) sculpture at Janggoksa Temple in Cheongyang is a treasured masterpiece of Goryeo art. More than 1000 monks and lay devotees made offerings to commission the sculpture. The offering record for the sculpture is over 10 meters long and prayers to ward off disease, illness, and suffering have remained undisturbed for some 700 years.

The third part “A Place for Tea,” brings the story back into secular world. Teahouses were common sights on the road in Goryeo. A traveler might have stopped by in a place like the one in the exhibition before entering temple grounds. Like today’s cafes, tea shops were a part of everyday life back then. In light of the way tea shaped the way people in Goryeo lived and thought, the exhibition invites visitors to experience tea through their senses by sight, smell, and sound. The exhibition, filled with the fragrance of brewing tea, recreates the sceneries and sounds that Goryeo people would have enjoyed in a teahouse.

Teahouses showed that tea culture was not only a part of various rituals and ceremonies at the royal court or Buddhist temples, but played an important role in the broader society. They also served as a meeting place for literary men, scholars, and government officials who formed the intelligentsia of Goryeo. As connoisseurs of not only poetry, literature, calligraphy, and painting but also beautiful objects, they raised the level of art during the Goryeo period.

The final section of the exhibition, "The Brilliant Technical and Design Expertise of Goryeo," focuses on objects that represent the zenith of Goryeo artistry. Goryeo art attests to the history of welcoming and overcoming challenges. Between the tenth and fourteenth centuries, countries throughout Northeast Asia made progress in technology to manufacture more sophisticated objects out of natural materials. The the answer to the question of where and how to apply the technology led to the creation of great art in many of these countries.

In Goryeo, art flourished in an open and inclusive society that allowed accomplished foreign artisans to join government-run workshops. Artists embraced new technology to develop the highly-esteemed Goryeo celadon, and worked to perfect their technique in exquisitely detailed Buddhist paintings and meticulously crafted lacquerware with mother-of-pearl inlay, known as najeon chilgi. Together, the objects demonstrate how Goryeo continually challenged itself to reach new heights in art. The exceptional artworks in the exhibition were the result of Goryeo’s willingness to exchange and integrate different technologies and aesthetic tastes. This approach enabled the dynasty to achieve a brilliant and original culture that continues to enrich Korea’s history and culture.


By focusing on Goryeo art from the tenth to fourteenth centuries, Goryeo: The Glory of Korea sheds light on the cultural exchanges and achievements of the extended East Asian region. The values that led countries to seek out and incorporate new cultures, share commonalities, and develop their own unique identities are what we need to realize a new age of unity. Our hope is that the exhibition will introduce visitors to the cultural achievements of the Goryeo Dynasty and inspire them to reflect on the cultural identity that informs who we are today.

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