Joseon Painting

The last dynasty of Korea, the Joseon Dynasty, was characterized by the prominence arts were given. During this period, many key painters found ways to incorporate some influences from China while simultaneously creating an art style that was uniquely Korean. By borrowing elements from Chinese religions such as Taoism and Confucianism, Korean artists during the Joseon Dynasty created beautiful artwork that helped bolster a Korean identity.

Confucian art in the Joseon period depicts the important pillars of Confucianism while connecting it to native traditions. While Confucian art tends to be simple, in Ho Mok’s Munjado, he uses vibrant colors while still portraying important Confucian ideals. Munjado is a type of painting that depict the characters of the eight highest Confucian virtues: filial piety, brotherly love, loyalty, trust, propriety, righteousness, modesty, and sensitivity. In Ho Mok’s Mundjado, these characters are depicted with Chinese attributes. For example in the sixth character, righteousness incorporates symbols from a famous Chinese novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While instead of incorporating Korean traditions he uses Chinese, this Mundjado still sets a precedent for the vibrant art style we see in later Joseon paintings.

Jeong Seon was one of the main artists who revolutionized Korean art. Instead of copying Chinese traditions, which was standard at the time, he focused on the nature Korea had to offer. He painted the beautiful landscapes of Korea, paving the way for many Korean artists after him. The Album of Mt. Geumgang solidified his importance in the sphere of Korean art. One of his more famous paintings from this album, while not as colorful as Ho Mok’s Munjado, vividly depicts this mountain. General View of Inner Mt. Geumgang shows the beauty of this mountain. While uniquely Korean, this painting captures some of the key features of Taoism, the relationship between the human and natural worlds. Since this mountain is located in North Korea, it is near impossible to see it in person now. Yet because of Jeong Seon’s work, we have a realistic image of Mt. Geumgang.

Korean painting moved towards painting humans in normal life with the works of Kim Hong-do. Kim Hong-do was appointed at the young age of 21 to serve as a member of the Dohwaseo, the painters of the Joseon court. Here he painted the Royal Heir and assisted with painting King Yeongjo. Yet later in life he was also able to paint more natural scenes, such as in his painting Dancing Boy Mudong. Here we see a depiction of a dancing boy along with men playing instruments. While in Jeong Seon’s works we see serene natural beauty, here we see the beauty of the life of ordinary Koreans.

While heavily influenced by China, Korean art in the Joseon period also moved away from Chinese traditions to create their own artistic identity. Although some Chinese aspects can be seen in many of these works, this was because Chinese traditions were heavily ingrained in Korean society at this time. The artists during the Joseon period paved the way for Korean artists in the future to continue an art style that better captured the Korean national identity.