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Korean collection

Korean collection

Unique forms of artistic expression have developed throughout the Korean peninsula. Thanks to its location, Korea has played a determining role as a land of passage for new technologies between China and the Japanese islands.

It is likely that the Korean territory initially encompassed a larger geographical area than present-day Korea, encroaching upon Manchuria and eastern Siberia, as revealed by the numerous similarities among objects discovered in these regions. At the end of the Neolithic Age, a population migrating from Manchuria introduced bronze technology (Bronze Age: 1000 – 3000 B.C.), technology used to create original forms of artefacts (daggers, mirrors). In the 3rd century A.D., the first political entities appeared, and soon divided the peninsula into three states (Era of the Three Kingdoms: 1st century B.C. – 668). The Koguryo Kingdom occupied a wide area in the north, the Paekche Kingdom in the centre and south-west, and the Silla Kingdom in the south-east. Magnificent tombs with murals from the Koguryo Kingdom, or the complex structures of the tombs from the Paekche suggest the high degree of refinement among these courts. During the same period, Buddhism was introduced to Korea, and today we find its remains, including stone or brick pagodas and bronze sculptures.

The Silla kings ended up absorbing the other two territories, creating Unified Silla (668-935). The capital, built on the model of the Chinese capital Chang'an, was established in Kyongju in south-east Korea, and became the centre of a cosmopolitan culture, inspired by the Chinese Tang and Siberian cultures. The beautiful gold and jade crowns discovered in tombs provide evidence of this culture. Peasant revolts contributed towards the end of this golden age and a new line of rulers was established in Kaesong (north-eastern Korea), starting the Koryo Dynasty (935 – 1392). This dynasty was faced with attacks by the same nomadic tribes that were attacking northern China: the Khitan, Jürchen and Mongols. The influence of the latter led to the adoption of the Mongolian language and customs. This period, despite the difficulties faced by the court, was rich in new artistic creations, particularly in the field of ceramics, as represented by the famous “secret colour” celadon, popular as far as China. During the second half of the 14th century, Korea was again faced with attacks from Japanese pirates who invaded the Sea of China and the Yellow Sea. A general took advantage of the confusion and seized power, establishing the Choson Dynasty (1392 – 1910). The capital was again moved and this time established in Hanyang (present-day Seoul). Buddhism was officially abandoned for Neo-Confucianism, which radically transformed society. Temples, no longer supported by the state, collapsed. During the 15th century, King Sejong established the Korean alphabet, the han’gul, and the Korean language was transcribed, making education accessible to social classes that had not mastered classical Chinese. The art from this period depicts new directions: paintings used the iconography of Korean customs and landscapes, sandstone and porcelain were decorated in completely different ways than the Chinese style, objects and furniture were produced to respond to the needs of erudite Confucians, lacquers were inlaid with mother-of-pearl.