National Museum of Korea uncovers rare treasures
National Museum of Korea uncovers rare treasures
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  • 승인 2009.11.02 10:06
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     The National Museum of Korea is celebrating its hundredth anniversary. King Sunjong, the last king of the Joseon dynasty, built the first national museum in Korea in the early 20th century. At the time, the museums were only opened to yangbans (the literati elite). However, King Sunjong wanted to open the museums to the entire population. He said “I want to share the happiness with the public (Yeominhaerak, in Korean) through opening the museum to the public.” Thus, on November 1, 1909, the National Museum of Korea (NMK) was launched, and has been continued to be the representative museum of Korea since that time. Now, 100 years after King Sunjong, the NMK has brought back the idea of Yeominhaerak as its 100th anniversary theme.
     Located in Yongsan, Seoul, NMK’s original name was the Imperial Museum of Korea. It contained Korean artifacts from the past as well as famous artworks of the time. Now, the NMK has grown to be the biggest and the most prestigious national museum in Korea, with 1776 representative and rare artifacts exhibited, including Goryeo celadon, Goryeo dynasty vases and paintings from the Joseon dynasty.
 The hundredth anniversary exhibition, “Yeominhaerak,” is special in that the NMK has borrowed 150 pieces of Korean artifacts from museums and institutions in other countries. The artifacts include those that Korea lost to the world powers during the colonization period and have failed to restitute. Some of the most famous exhibition pieces include 15th century woodblock printed books (including one by King Sejong from 1446), and famous scrolls and paintings.
     One artifact, the Mongyu Dowondo (a painting of mountains and sceneries) was shown to the public only from September 29 to October 6; this was the public showing of this piece after a long period of time. Owned by Japan Tenri University, and considered a national treasure of Japan, NMK had to make a special request to display the piece here in Korea. More than 3,000 visitors per day went to the exhibition to appreciate the piece as there are no future plans for another showing.
     “Seeing the Mongyu Dowondo was a dream comes true. I have always missed the previous opportunities to appreciate the artifact due to personal situations, but this time, seeing the legendary original version of Mongyu Dowondo really thrilled me,” said a visitor of NMK during Mongyu Dowondo exhibition who wished to remain anonymous. Other borrowed pieces include Chiseonggwang Yeoraedo (Buddha of Polaris) from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Soowol Gwaneumdo (a portrait of a Buddhism figure) from the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
     Another special piece in this exhibition is Cheonmado (painting of horses, 5th century), the oldest extant piece of art work in Korea that dates back to the Silla dynasty. The museum is exhibiting an infrared picture of the artwork along with the original work, to allow a better view of the piece. This is particularly interesting since some claim that the creatures depicted are not horses, but rather kirin (a mythological animal similar to a horse but with horns on its head). The infrared picture allows for a better view of the animals.
     The exhibition will continue until November 8, including Korean national treasures, such as Gangsan Moojind (paintings of four seasons, 18th century) and Taejo YieSeongkye Eojin (painting of Taejo YieSeongkye, the first king of the Joseon dynasty, 1872). Since a few artifacts are to be exhibited only during specific periods of time, one should first check the exhibition schedule at the museum’s official Web site, (

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