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Rare public view: Korea's highly prized national treasures

2017/05/12 17:45

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, May 12 (Yonhap) -- How many cultural objects being produced today are of significant historic and aesthetic value enough to become a national treasure thousands years later?

   The question jumped into the mind of Yi Young-hoon, director-general of the National Museum of Korea, while his organization -- together with the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) -- were putting together a special exhibition to show historic artifacts that have been designated as treasures and national treasures in 2014-2016.

"A thousand years later, how many artworks of the 21st century will be considered national treasure? Have we produced a building with a value that can compete against Seokguram Grotto (an eighth-century Buddhist cave temple in Gyeongju)?" he asked during a press briefing at the museum Friday.

Yi Young-hoon, director general of the National Museum of Korea, speaks during a press briefing for "The New National Treasures 2014-2016" at the museum in Seoul on May 12, 2017. (Yonhap) Yi Young-hoon, director general of the National Museum of Korea, speaks during a press briefing for "The New National Treasures 2014-2016" at the museum in Seoul on May 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

"The New National Treasures 2014-2016" is a rare exhibition where the public gets to see the country's priceless treasures up close, which are only read about or viewed in photos from history textbooks, said Cho Hyung-joong, director of the Heritage Conservation Bureau of the CHA during the briefing.

The exhibit shows a total of 50 treasures and national treasures ranging from paintings to sculpture, calligraphy to ceramics, and metal craft works to books, out of 121 items that have been designated as such in the past three years.

As of the end of 2016, Korea has 2,060 treasures and 328 national treasures.

Among those displayed are the earrings and ornaments from the Silla Kingdom (57 B.C. - A.D. 935), excavated from Geumjochong Tomb in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province. Treasure No. 1921 is considered one of the most sophisticated and splendid metal craft works found outside Gyeongju -- the capital of Silla. Hundreds of small golden beads were used to express the delicate pattern of a turtle's back. The museum said the pair of earrings demonstrates the high level of culture and power enjoyed even outside the capital city.

"Uigwe" or "Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty" is displayed in "The New National Treasures 2014-2016" at the National Museum of Korea on May 12, 2017. (Yonhap) "Uigwe" or "Royal Protocols of the Joseon Dynasty" is displayed in "The New National Treasures 2014-2016" at the National Museum of Korea on May 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

"Donguibogam," or "Principles and Practice of Eastern Medicine" as translated by the museum, is also on view at the exhibition.

The book series was written by Heo Jun (1539-1615), a royal physician during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). In 2009 it was placed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme in recognition of its historical importance as a documentary heritage of mankind. In 2015, it was designated as national treasure No. 319.

Meanwhile, "Bongsudan Jinchando" or "Painting of the Birthday Banquet for Lady Hyegyeong at Bongsudang Hall" is a magnificent instance of color painting on silk.

The painting was commissioned by King Jeongjo, the 22nd monarch of the Joseon Dynasty, to celebrate and remember his mother's 60th birthday. Treasure No. 1430-2, painted in 1795, captures the royal banquet in great detail and vivid color. That there is no trace whatsoever of being fixed or painted again adds to its high historic value, the museum said.

The museum's director-general underlined that the national treasures are the true manifestation of the ancestors' minds that he hopes will give visitors a chance to reflect on themselves as well as the culture of today.

"How will be our culture evaluated by our descendants?" he asked.

The exhibition runs through July 9.

These earrings and ornaments from the Silla Kingdom, excavated from Geumjochong Tomb in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, are on display in "The New National Treasures 2014-2016" at the National Museum of Korea on May 12, 2017. (Yonhap) These earrings and ornaments from the Silla Kingdom, excavated from Geumjochong Tomb in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province, are on display in "The New National Treasures 2014-2016" at the National Museum of Korea on May 12, 2017. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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