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Euigwe and the Documentation of Joseon Court Ritual Life

The Joseon-dynasty (1392-1910) documents now commonly referred to as euigwe are official records of the Superintendency (dogam), a temporary office set up to plan and carry out special state rites. Euigwe were compiled after the completion of events such as royal weddings, the painting and copying of royal portraits, birthday celebrations of members of the royal family, funeral rites, and the building and repairing of royal tombs, important palace buildings, and so forth. These records were written exclusively in Chinese characters, but combined both literary Chinese and the unique Korean writing system called idu, in which Chinese characters were borrowed to record the sound or meaning of Korean words.

With the publication of the National Law Code (Gyeongguk daejeon) in 1484 and the Book of the Five Rites of the Nation (Gukjo oryeeui) in 1474, the Joseon court firmly established the rules and regulations for the management of state rites according to the Neo-Confucian principles of government.1 From that time, all palace rites had to be performed as prescribed. It was in this spirit that the Joseon court not only conducted important palace rites but also documented the details of the events, often with illustrations, in the book form we now know as euigwe.2Euigwe books were compiled with the intention that they be consulted, although not necessarily exactly followed, for similar, later state events.

Depending on the nature of the particular event, usually six or more copies of the euigwe were made: one for royal viewing (Fig. 1), one to be kept in the Board of Rites, and one to be deposited in each of the four History Archives located in different places in the country (Fig. 2). The late Joseon History Archives were located at Mount Odae, Mount Jeongjok on Ganghwa-do Island, Mount Jeoksang in Muju, and Mount Taebaek, all in remote mountain areas meant to be safe in time of foreign invasions. In the late Joseon period, when an event was primarily for a crown prince, a copy was also made for the Office of Education of the Crown Prince (Seja sigangwon). For the wedding of King Injo and Queen Jangryeol in 1638, however, only five copies were made; one for the royal viewing, and four more copies for each of the four History Archives.

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Fig. 1AB.

Cover and text page of Gyeongmo-gung Euigwe. 1783. The royal viewing copy. Jangseo-gak Library, Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Korea.

Euigwe created before the Japanese invasion of 1592 were all but destroyed. Fortunately, over 3,000 volumes representing about thirty categories of euigwe remain from the later period, the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. The earliest extant euigwe, which concerns the rebuilding of King Jungjong's tomb (Jungjong Daewang Jeongreung gaejang euigwe), is dated to 1600; the latest euigwe documents the wedding of the crown prince who became Emperor Sunjong (Hwangtaeja garye dogam euigwe) in 1906. These euigwe are now kept primarily in three locations: Gyujang-gak Library of Seoul National University, Jangseo-gak Library of the Academy of Korean Studies, and Bibliothe`que Nationale de France in Paris. Of the three libraries, the Gyujang-gak Library has the largest number of specimens and copies (about 2,700 volumes representing 540 specimens); the Bibliothe`que Nationale de France holds 297 volumes, comprising most of the pre-1866 books intended for royal viewing. These royal viewing copies are of the highest quality in both the material used (paper, silk for the cover, and binding hardware) and the workmanship [End Page 113] (calligraphy, illustration, and woodblock printing). The British Library in London has one euigwe, and seventy-one specimens are kept in the Office of Imperial House-hold Affairs in Tokyo, Japan.3

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Fig. 2AB.

Cover and text page of Euigwe of King Yeongjo's Wedding. 1759. The copy for Mt. Odae History Archives. Gyujanggak Library, Seoul National University, Korea.

In 1866 the invading French navy took the volumes now in Paris from Ganghwa Island, which is located near Seoul at the mouth of the Han River. It was on that island that the Outer Gyujang-gak Library, known as Oe-Gyujang-gak (Fig. 3), was located. Referred to in brief as the Gangdo Oegak, this library was built to accommodate the overflow of books from the main Gyujang-gak Library at Changdeok Palace, and naturally contained most of the royal viewing copies. Negotiations between the Korean and French governments for the return of these historical documents, precious to Korea, have gone on since 1994, but with few positive results to date.

What can one expect to find in these euigwe books that will further our understanding of Joseon culture? Depending on one's area of interest, one might retrieve information on Joseon society, politics, economics, rituals, literature, art history, musicology, culinary history, and perhaps more. Of particular interest to the art historian is the extensive description of the visual culture of the court. There is a seemingly endless amount of documentation along with numerous illustrations of ritual performance, court dress, musical instruments, ceremonial utensils, and interior decoration, notably, screen paintings-all of which were made for special events. In this essay, I highlight some of these features, drawing on my research on three categories of the euigwe, those documenting royal weddings, the painting and copying of royal portraits, and palace banquets.4

A typical euigwe documenting the wedding of a reigning king would begin with a jwamok, or a list of officials who were appointed to various positions at the Superintendency, followed by a schedule of all the events (geohaeng ilgi) from the first round of selection of the bride-to-be (chogantaek) to the first greeting ceremony of the bride to her in-laws (johyeonrye) after the couple's formal wedding vow, called dongroe-yeon (Fig. 4).5 For the marriage of King Heonjong in 1837, the first round of selection of the bride-to-be from among the eligible maidens began on 6 February, and the first greeting ceremony [End Page 114] was performed on 22 March. In between came forty-two separate stages or events, including the king's formal proposal rite (napchae) after the third and final selection process (samgantaek) of the bride-to-be, the sending of gifts to the bride's family (napjing), selection of the auspicious date (taegil) in consultation with the court astronomer, announcement of the date (gogi), and many other events including several rehearsals for some of the important ceremonies.6 The rest of the book contains all the communications and correspondence among the offices concerned with the preparation of the wedding, and the lists of all the ceremonial items to be newly created, such as the scroll of the king's letter of appointment (gyomyeong), the jade book (okchaek), the golden seal (geumbo), and the outfit for the new queen (myeongbok). Nonceremonial items, such as painted screens, attributes for the honor guards (weapons and flags), palanquins to be used for the ceremony, and food to be served (along with the necessary utensils), were carefully listed.

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Fig. 3.

Oe-Gyujang-gak ("Outer-Gyujang-gak") Library, rebuilt 2003. Ganghwa Island, Gyeonggi Province, Korea.

All wedding-related euigwe include illustrations of the wedding processions, in which separate palanquins for the king and the queen and smaller palanquins containing the above ceremonial items, one by one, are shown, along with officials; honor guards, some on horseback and some on foot; and wet nurses and female court physicians on horseback (Fig. 5). The women wear veils, in accordance with the Joseon custom of women covering their faces in public. This procession moves from the temporary residence assigned to the bride (byeolgung) after the third and final round of selection, to the royal palace.7 The groom (king or crown prince) goes to the residence to meet the bride, and together they go to the palace in the next long procession.

Of special interest to art historians is the section called gongjang-jil (Fig. 6), which lists the names of all the artisans, including painters, scribes, and seam-stresses in service to the event. That section appears, with some differences in the number and kinds of artisans, in all euigwe. It sheds light on the division of labor among Joseon artisans, as individuals are listed under their specialties or trades. Among the painters are those [End Page 115] whose names are not known to us through traditional literary sources other than euigwe. For example, a total of 234 painters are recorded in the wedding-related euigwe, and of these, 142, or about 60 percent, do not appear in other sources. Many of these names, however, appear repeatedly in contemporary euigwe. This demonstrates that the standard account of Joseon painting history, as we know it today, is quite incomplete.

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Fig. 4.

Diagrammatic illustration showing arrangement of objects and places for the royal couple during formal wedding vow (dongroe-yeon). Page from the Euigwe of Crown Prince's Wedding (before he became Emperor Sunjong). 1882. Jangseogak Library, Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Korea.

Euigwe also have a section on awards (sangjeon) to all the officials and artisans who participated in the event (Fig. 7). The awards came in many different forms: material goods such as rice, silk, or cotton fabrics, or a horse (the best means of transportation for a high official); promotion to higher rank within the nine-rank system of bureaucracy; an appointment to local government office; or a change of class from outcast (cheonmin) to "good person" (yangmin). The awards vary greatly in kind and amount, depending on the status of the recipient, nature of the event, and the amount of service rendered. Usually, a full-grown horse [End Page 116] was given to the highest official of the Superintendency (dojejo), a colt or pony to the next highest officials (jejo).

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Fig. 5.

Section showing Queen's palanquin, from the Euigwe of King Yeongjo's Wedding. 1759. Gyujang-gak Library, Seoul National University, Korea.

As awards, painters and other artisans were mostly given a bolt of cotton and/or a bushel of rice. Court painters of the lowest rank, that is, of the ninth grade, sometimes were promoted to the sixth rank, the highest rank for court painters prescribed by the Joseon Law Code (Gyeongguk daejeon), although the law was often broken for royal favorites or master painters. Painters already of the sixth rank, or those special favorites, might either be awarded a pony or appointed to other official posts, such as magistrate of a small province (hyeongam). If posts were available, they assumed them immediately, but if not, they were promised first priority when an appropriate post became available (silgwan daegwa joyong). An administrative post was a great privilege, as it came with regular emoluments, whereas court painters normally were not paid on a regular basis. Some painters are simply recorded as promoted (seungseo), without further specification. It seems that, toward the end of the Joseon period, painters were, on occasion, even raised above the limit set by the Law Code. Yi Giyeong was already of the third rank in 1901, but was promoted to the second rank in 1902.8

The most uncommon form of award seems to have [End Page 117] been the granting of higher social class. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, some of the female court entertainers (singers and dancers), collectively known as yeoryeong, who served at court banquets and whose social status was that of outcast, asked for and were granted the status of "good people." Once having acquired the status of yangmin, then, when next serving at a royal banquet, they would ask for material awards, such as a bolt of cotton or bushel of rice. Not only these female performers but also some of the male court scribes (sajagwan) asked for a change of status to "good people." It has generally been thought that court scribes, like court painters, were of the "middle people" or jung'in, class, but apparently some of the scribes were originally outcasts. No study to date of Joseon social classes seems to have utilized the abundant source materials in euigwe to assess upward social mobility during the late Joseon period.9

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Fig. 6.

Euigwe section called gongjangjil, listing names of artisans and painters, from the Euigwe of King Yeongjo's Wedding. 1759. Gyujang-gak Library, Seoul National University, Korea.

From euigwe concerning the painting and copying of royal portraits, we learn how artists were selected for the important job of painting portraits as well as other necessary, functionally related items such as the Screens of the Five Peaks (obong-byeong). Often, painters were tested by copying portraits of meritorious subjects. They were placed in separate rooms lest they copy each other's work. The "exams" were evaluated in a conference of the king and high officials at court. Invariably, the critical criteria were lifelikeness, or "closeness to reality" [End Page 118] (pipjin), and the transmission of the spirit (jeonsin). When a preliminary version of a king's portrait was finished, before it was shown to court officials, a court physician was called in to examine the sketch. This probably was done because the officials and the king believed that a physician could immediately detect any physical anomaly in the sketch.

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Fig. 7.

Euigwe section called sangjeon ("award"), from the Euigwe of King Jeongjo's Visit to His Father's Tomb in Hwaseong. 1795. Jangseo-gak Library, Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Korea.

Once the final version was selected, it was routine practice to obliterate all other sketch versions by washing them in water, a process known as secho. They were then burned and the ashes buried near the palace building. King Sukjong (r. 1674-1720), however, heeding officials' requests not to destroy the sketches, and kept them. (It would certainly have been beneficial to the study of royal portraiture had it been common practice to preserve the sketch versions.)

We also learn from euigwe about some of the circumstances in which royal portraits were painted. When a living king's portrait was painted, he actually posed for the painters. The officials recommended that the king pose, especially when the painters were depicting his face, and that he sit for them in the morning when the light was best. Costumes and other elements could be painted in the less clear light of afternoon. The court officials who judged preliminary versions complained that, although their other official duties brought [End Page 119] them into the king's presence, the prohibition against looking straight at him deprived them of the basis for judgment. Thus, they requested that the king be present when they examined the preliminary versions. It is not clear how many times King Sukjong posed for his painters in 1713, but we know that when King Gojong's (r. 1864-1907) portrait was painted in 1902, he posed for the painters about fifty times in the Jeonggwanheon hall of Deoksu Palace. Although the portrait of Emperor Gojong, now in the collection of the National Palace Museum in Seoul (Fig. 8), bears no date, it is probable that the portrait was one of the four versions painted at that time. This reflects the increased interest in painting from life resulting from contact with the West and the cumulative influence of Western art on Joseon art since the mid-eighteenth century.10

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Fig. 8.

Portrait of Emperor Gojong. Undated. Ink and color on silk; 210 x 116 cm. National Palace Museum of Korea, Seoul.

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Fig. 9.

The Royal Throne with a Screen of the Five Peaks in the Main Throne Hall (Geunjeong-jeon). Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul.

It was through the royal portrait euigwe that we also learned of the use of the Five Peaks Screens (obong-byeong) with portraits. As the title of the screen spells out, the most important element in it are the five mountain peaks, the central peak being taller than the rest. Also present are the sun on the right, the moon on the left, two pine trees on either side, and finally two waterfalls, which start from a gorge between the first and the second, and between the fourth and the fifth peaks and fall into the pool of water in the foreground usually depicted as stylized wave forms. These are the nine landscape features mentioned in the "Heaven Protects" (Tianbao) poem in the Book of Poetry (Shijing).11 Below is the section of the poem from the Shijing (Part II, Book I, Ode VI) in which nine items are mentioned. For clarity, they are numbered in parentheses.

Heaven protects and establishes theeSo that in everything thou dost prosper,Like the high hills [1. shan], and the mountain masses [2. fu]Like the topmost ridges [3. kang], and the greatest bulks [4. ling],That as the stream [5. chuan] ever coming on Such is thine increase......All the black-haired race, in all their surnames,Universally practice your virtue.Like the moon [6. yue] advancing to the full,Like the sun [7. re] ascending the heavens,Like the age of the southern hills [8. nanshan]Never waning, never falling,Like the luxuriance of the fir and the cypress [9. songpo],May such be thy succeeding Line!12 [End Page 120]

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Fig. 10.

Eight-panel Screen of the Five Peaks. Illustration from the Euigwe of the Painting of Gojong's and the Crown Prince's Portraits. 1902. Gyujanggak Library, Seoul National University, Korea.

These screens, most prominently displayed behind the thrones in the throne halls of all the royal palaces, as seen in this photograph of the Geunjeong-jeon, or the Main Hall of the Geongbok Palace in Seoul (Fig. 9), were mandatory behind royal portraits, wherever the portraits were at any given time. The euigwe books illustrate several screen formats, and list their respective formats, such as the eight-fold screen (Fig. 10), the narrow single-panel screens placed on either side of the portrait, rather than behind it, and the wider one-panel screen, called sappyeong, which is kept upright by a heavy ornamental base (Fig. 11). Today we can see the copy of the portrait of King Taejo (r. 1392-1398) made in 1872, displayed in front of a four-fold Screen of the Five Peaks in the royal portrait hall Gyeonggi-jeon, in Jeonju, North Jeolla province (Fig. 12).

When a newly painted or copied royal portrait was completed, it was transported to its final place of installation in a grand procession. Five of the nine euigwe on royal portraits include illustrations of the processions.13 [End Page 121] In the depiction of the 1901 procession the mayor of Seoul and his deputy, both on horseback and in full court robes, lead the way between police and soldiers. The newly copied portrait of King Taejo rides in a "spirit palanquin," or sinyeon, carried by sixteen bearers wearing yellow garments (Fig. 13). Preceding the palanquin is a small pavilion-like structure called hyangyong-jeong, containing an incense burner and royal poems, carried by eight bearers. Officials and honor guards, as well as a thirteen-member band of musicians, precede and follow the spirit palanquin. Next are other honor guards with appropriate ritual weapons, flag bearers, and police and soldiers, in both traditional and Western-style costumes, aligned in neat rows. To express concern for the people, special instructions were given not to trample the rice paddies and vegetable gardens, and to protect whatever crops the procession passed in farmlands along the way.

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Fig. 11.

One-panel screen (sappyeong). Illustration from the Euigwe of the Painting of Gojong's and the Crown Prince's Portraits. 1902. Gyujang-gak Library, Seoul National University, Korea.

Heading a Confucian state, the Joseon court was particularly keen on not employing a painter who was observing the three-year period of mourning for a parent, even if he was thought to be the most suitable head painter for the production of a royal portrait. When King Taejo's portrait was copied in 1688, high officials all agreed that Gim Jin-gyu (1658-1716) was the most qualified painter for the job, but decided not to employ him because he was in the midst of the three-year mourning period for his father. They quoted a section from The Book of Rites (C: Liji), which says, "The princely man does not deprive one from serving his parents. It could be done only in time of war, but not in a peaceful and prosperous time."14 Thus Gim was excused [End Page 122] from work that year, but was employed in 1713 when King Sukjong's portrait was painted. Moral precepts also barred Sim Sa-jeong (1707-1769) from serving as a royal portrait painter because his grandfather, Sim Ik-chang, had participated in an attempted coup to unseat the crown prince who later became King Yeongjo (r. 1724-1776).

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Fig. 12.

Portrait of King Taejo. Copy made in 1872. Displayed with a Screen of the Five Peaks. Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk; 199.8 x 119.9 cm. Gyeonggi-jeon Hall, Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, Korea.

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Fig. 13.

Spirit palanquin, or sinyeon, carrying King Taejo's portrait. Illustration from the Euigwe of the Copying of Seven Royal Portraits. 1901. Jangseo-gak Library, Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Korea.

The banquet-related euigwe afford glimpses of the interior decoration of the banquet halls. There also remain several large-scale screen paintings that can be directly related to the euigwe books. Indispensable for all banquets were flowers-on food tables and in large vases-as can be seen in this section from the 1887 royal banquet for Queen Mother Sinjeong (Fig. 14). Surprisingly, however, fresh flowers were never used. Fresh flowers figured in the lives of Joseon people in other contexts, such as Buddhist rituals, and they appear in paintings showing a scholar's studio with branches of blossoming plums in a vase.15 For seventeenth-century banquets, however, the flowers were mostly made of paper; in the later centuries they were made of silk, velvet, and tin or silver wires. In the euigwe books, we find that hwajang, or flower artisans, were employed in great numbers. For the 1887 banquet for Queen Mother Jo 14,090 flowers were made at a total cost of 12,101.5 ryang, out of total expenses for the banquet of 339,393.78 ryang. Because one banquet event usually lasted for two or three days, perhaps it was more convenient to use artificial flowers, which would not fade. All of the different types of flowers used, whether on the [End Page 123] food tables or in large vases, are illustrated in the euigwe books (Fig. 15).

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Fig. 14.

Upper portion of panels 5 and 6 of the Palace Banquet Screen. Dated to 1887. Ten-fold screen; ink and color on silk; 182.9 x 511.2 cm. National Museum of Korea, Seoul.

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Fig. 15.

Various types of artificial flowers made for the Royal Banquet for Queen Mother Sinjeong, 1887. Illustration from the Royal Banquet Euigwe of the Queen Mother Sinjeong. 1887. Jangseo-gak Library, Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Korea.

Other adornments of the banquet halls included floor coverings of many different types, made of straw, silk, or fur. At the 1795 banquet held in honor of the sixtieth birthday of Madam Hong of Hyegyeong Palace (Hyegyeong-gung), the mother of King Jeongjo, we find a straw mat woven with an unusual horseshoe pattern (majemunseok).16 The most common type of floor covering seems to have been woven mats of straw and/or various grasses, with flower designs woven in (manhwa bangseok): these appear in all banquet euigwe books. Cushions of fur, such as tiger, fox, or orangutan, were also used, sparingly, where royal family members were to be seated. The last must have been imported, as the orangutan is not native to Korea. Other items imported [End Page 124] from China were four- or six-sided glass lanterns. Those were used in quantity at all the late nineteenth-century banquets.17

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Fig. 16.

Ten Symbols of Longevity Screen. Ten-fold screen; ink and color on silk; 208.5 x 38.9 cm, National Palace Museum of Korea, Seoul.

Lacquer wares, such as small tables and trays (soban), were used in great numbers at the banquets. Red lacquer, or juchil wares, were only for the top-ranking royal family members, such as the king, queen, or queen mother. Princes and princesses apparently used only black lacquer, or heukchil wares. In the 1868 banquet the Regent Daewon-gun and his wife, being the parents of King Gojong, were accorded red and black lacquer wares. Here the term red lacquer, hongchil is not the same as for the red lacquer accorded kings and queens. It seems that the term juch'il referred to red lacquer created by adding the Chinese red color ju, whereas hongchil referred to red lacquer created by adding Japanese red color wae-juhong, which began to be imported in the late nineteenth century. This color is slightly brighter and lighter than the Chinese red.18

In all three categories of euigwe under consideration here, we find abundant information on the painted screens used in the palaces at various functions. From the wedding-related euigwe, we learn that screens of the Ten Symbols of Longevity (sipjangsaeg-byeong), Peonies (moran-byeong), Lotus Flowers (yeonhwa-byeong), and Birds-and-Flowers (hwajo-byeong) were always used among the manifold wedding rites up to the end of the eighteenth century. The Ten Symbols of Longevity Screen (Fig. 16) is distinctively Korean; it was unknown in China and Japan. In a blue-and-green landscape setting are displayed the sun, clouds, water, rocks, bamboo, pine, the mushroom of immortality (K: yongji; C: lingzhi), deer, crane, and finally turtles-each a pictorial emblem of long life, here being wished to the bride and groom. Peony flowers, which symbolize wealth and noble rank, in these Joseon palace screens are arranged in columns with stylized rocks below the stems, all in bright colors. Lotus Screens usually show the plants in all stages of growth including the pods, symbolizing abundant progeny, plus fish and waterfowl in pairs symbolizing conjugal felicity.

The Five Peaks Screen is the most frequently appearing type of painting in the royal portrait-related euigwe as well as in the banquet-related euigwe throughout the dynasty.19 The Screen of Calligraphy, not shown at any other events, was always used at royal banquets in the area where the crown prince was to be seated. Blossoming Plum (maehwa) Screens and Screens of the Peaches of Immortality by the Sea (haehak bando) were also used in royal portrait halls. At present a Blossoming Plum Screen stands just in front of the niche containing the portrait of King Taejo in the Gyeonggi-jeon hall. This eight-fold screen depicts blossoming plum trees in ink and white pigment.20 In Changdeok Palace is a building known as New Seonwon-jeon, built in 1921 to house eleven royal portraits. At present all the niches are empty of portraits, as those once hung in them were mostly burned during the Korean War (1950-1953).21 Filling the niches instead are paraphernalia such as the canopy, a small bench for the portrait scroll to rest on, and above all one eight-fold Screen of the Five Peaks flanked on either side by one-panel Screen of the Five [End Page 125] Peaks (Fig. 17). Behind that niche, and barely visible from the front is a Peony Screen. Only in King Taejo's niche can an additional screen of white blossoming plum and green bamboo be found.

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Fig. 17.

A Royal Portrait Niche in the New Seonwon-jeon Royal Portrait Hall. Changdeok Palace, Seoul.

While the use of these "staple" screens continued, new types came into use as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century. Screens of the Happy Life of Guo Ziyi (Gwak Bunyang haengnak-do) are listed in the royal wedding euigwe of 1802 and remained in the listings of wedding screens until the end of the dynasty. As seen in this screen in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Fig. 18), the three main components of this screen are: in the center, Guo Ziyi (697-781) seated on a throne watching an entertainment for him, surrounded by his sons, sons-in-law, concubines, and many grandchildren in the foreground; to the right, Guo's wife is shown seated on a terrace of a palatial building surrounded by servants of every kind and looking toward the center where the [End Page 126]

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Fig. 18.

Happy Life of Guo Ziyi Screen. Ten-fold screen; ink and color on silk; 197.49 x 335.28 x 1.59 cm. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of funds from Fred and Ellen Wells.

[End Page 127]

main entertainment is going on; and to the left is a blue-green landscape with a waterfall and a pond in which stands a pavilion raised on stone columns. In it are people playing the game of baduk (C: weiqi), while in the foreground other guests are arriving, accompanied by their servants.

The pictorial Guo Ziyi theme appeared at approximately the time when the novel on that theme was published in hangeul, the Korean writing system, in the late eighteenth century. Guo Ziyi, a Tang-dynasty general who was enfoeffed as the King (wang) of Fenyang, was blessed with successive official positions; eight sons and seven sons-in-law, all of whom had very successful official careers; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Thus Guo Ziyi became the symbol, in Korea, of happy life.22 His life was therefore an appropriate theme for wedding screens, and it replaced the Ten Symbols of Longevity from 1802 on. Also new was the Screen of One Hundred Children, which is listed in the 1819 wedding euigwe and no doubt was closely related to the Guo Ziyi theme.

Wedding-related screens usually have ten panels, but some of the extant screens depicting the Happy Life of Guo Ziyi have eight. It is in reference to these screens that the term waejang, or Japanese-style mounting, first appears in the euigwe. This type of mounting, in which the individual screen panels have no margins, is suitable for a unified pictorial theme, as it permits the scene to continue without any break.23 Though the term was new, this type of mounting had been used earlier, on screens where continuous picture planes were required. As seen above, the Guo Ziyi theme comprises three sub-themes, each of which occupies more than two panels and thus requires a continuous pictorial space. Also, from this time on, some Animals-and-Birds wedding screens (1837, 1844, 1866) were given Japanese-style, or waejang, mountings. (The theme itself was not new, having entered Korean art during the Goryeo dynasty [918-1392]). Some of the extant screens of this theme, especially the large-scale examples in the Museum of the Royal Relics, have this type mounting; smaller-scale screens were not necessarily mounted in this manner.

The Scholar's Paraphernalia Screen (munbang-do) (Fig. 19) is also recorded in banquet-related euigwe of the nineteenth century. The popularity of this theme is confirmed by its appearance on the list of examination questions for the special category of court painters called "Painters-in-Waiting at Kyujang-gak" (Gyujanggak jabidaeryeong hwawon). In the late eighteenth century a new system for ranking and compensating court painters was instituted, whereby outstanding court painters were repeatedly examined and reclassified for special royal commissions as well as for higher emoluments.24 In these screens, which depict various scholars' objects such as books, rolls of paper, brushes, seals, curios, and small potted plants neatly organized in a structure resembling a multiunit bookcase (thus the painting is today called chaekka-do, or bookcase painting), the influence of Western painting that reached Korea by way of Qing-dynasty China can be detected in the shading and spatial representation. King Jeongjo (r. 1777-1800), the most scholarly of all the late Joseon monarchs, is said to have expressed his desire to be surrounded by this type of screen in his private quarters so that he could taste the life of his scholarly subjects.25

Another apparent innovation, a screen decorated with peacocks, is reported in connection with a banquet of 1802, but no further mention of it can be found. All of the other types of screens mentioned in euigwe are extant today in quantity, but the Peacock Screen is not found even in the National Palace Museum of Korea in Seoul, with one exception: an early twentieth-century, eight-panel screen of elaborately carved open-work wooden frames filled in with panels of embroidered birds, animals, and peacocks among flowering trees. A pair of peacock and peahen appears on the sixth panel, which also shows a pair of white cranes perched on top of a pine tree. The peacock stands on the perforated taihu rock with his tail fully spread while the peahen looks up to him from the ground. Scattered around the peony flowers are other smaller birds and butterflies.

The brilliantly colored and unabashedly decorative screen paintings produced and used at court for the most formal rites and ceremonies of the royal palace during the four centuries of Joseon rule call into question Korean art-history scholarship today, which classifies the numerous extant colorful screen paintings of the late Joseon period as "minhwa," or folk painting. The term minhwa, as defined and understood in contemporary scholarship, refers to paintings produced mostly by anonymous painters for consumption by commoners. To be sure, almost all the themes of the screens produced for the royal palaces-even the most royal of them all, the Screen of the Five Peaks-were appropriated by village painters, who made reduced-size versions and sold them to commoners at screen shops under the Gwangtong-gyo Bridge in Hanyang (the Joseon-period name for Seoul). We can distinguish court paintings from minhwa by their size and workmanship, but there is no agreement yet on what to call the former. Sometimes art historians, myself included, have used the term "court decorative painting,"26 but strictly speaking, [End Page 128]

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Fig. 19.

Gang Dalsu. Scholar's Paraphernalia Screen. Ten-fold screen; ink and color on silk; 193 x 417 cm. Private collection.

[End Page 129]

the Screen of the Five Peaks cannot be called "decorative," since its primary function was symbolic or ritual rather than decorative.27

From the euigwe, we learn not only about popular subjects but also about painting styles of the Joseon period. Illustrations in the euigwe, be they hand painted or woodblock printed, reflect contemporary painting styles. Even within the constraints of the woodblock-printing technique, some pages of the nineteenth-century documents, especially those showing dancers (yeoryeong), are rendered very lively and convincing by flowing linear depictions. Furthermore, several banquet-related euigwe records can be matched with banquet scenes in the palace architectural settings depicted in existing large-scale screen paintings. Nineteenth-century banquet screens, such as those of 1848, 1868, and 1887 (Fig. 20), show palace buildings rendered in linear perspective that recalls Western one-point perspective generally, but not exactly. Because documentary painting requires all the individual figures and objects to be clearly visible and accounted for, the overlapping of figures and objects was kept to a minimum. When compared with eighteenth-century screens of similar scenes, however, the late nineteenth-century screens show architectural elements and figures in a more convincing spatial continuum. In none of the nineteenth-century documentary paintings are opposite walls of the palace buildings depicted parallel to each other.

These screens were produced in multiple copies after the events were over, with one copy for the royal palace and other copies for high officials who had participated in the Superintendency. Lower-ranking officials ordered smaller versions or single-panel paintings of the events. Officials paid for their own screens, and all these expenses are also recorded in the euigwe books. A good example is the Wonhaeng eulmyo jeongri euigwe, which records the event of 1795 that celebrated King Jeongjo's visit to the tomb of Crown Prince Sado on the occasion of the sixtieth birthday of the King's mother, Madam Hong, who was the crown prince's widow. In this book we find a detailed list of all types of screens and paintings produced after the event, several of which survive today.28 Owned by families of high officials, these screens apparently served to demonstrate the successful lives of those particular officials to their descendants as well as to their contemporaries. After photography was introduced to Korea in 1883, some officials and their family members posed in front of these screens in order to leave to posterity sure proof of their successful official lives.29

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Fig. 20.

Panels 7 through 10 of the Palace Banquet Screen. Dated to 1887. Ten-fold screen; ink and color on silk; 182.9 x 511.2 cm. National Museum of Korea, Seoul.

As shown by the examples introduced in this study, euigwe texts and images, when examined carefully, can [End Page 130] yield detailed, multidimensional pictures of Joseon court life from the seventeenth through the early twentieth century. Together with the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty (Joseon wangjo sillok) and the Diary of the Royal Secretariat (Seungjeonwon ilgi), the euigwe books are one of the most important sources of information about Joseon elite culture. The information we can retrieve from euigwe is unique in its concreteness, richness, and variety. The exceptional value of such documentary heritage has been recognized worldwide, and finally, in June 2007, euigwe books were registered as UNESCO Memory of the World. Through such documentation of their rites, cultures, and lives, members of Joseon royalty, high officials at the court, and others around them wished to construct certain identities and project certain images of them to the rest of the nation, to posterity, and to history. It is now up to the current generation of scholars to utilize these vast sources of information to reconstruct and understand the past.

Yi Sŏng-mi
Professor Emerita
The Academy of Korean Studies


1. The Five Rites of the Nation are: ancestral worship rites (gillye), royal weddings and other congratulatory rites (garye), military rites (gunrye), the reception of foreign envoys (binrye), and funeral rites (hyungrye). See the complete Korean translation of the original in five volumes published in 1981/2 by the Ministry of Government Legislation.

2. Korean scholars have not yet agreed upon an English translation of the term euigwe. The first character means rites, and the second means tracks, as in railroad tracks. I would offer my own translation, "the book of state rites." The word "book," though not literal translation, is allusive, for all the documents are bound in book form, be they handwritten or printed. Furthermore, the English word "book," especially when capitalized, can connote a classic, as in the Chinese Book of Rites, Book of Poetry, and so on. Other English translations, given in the Glossary of Korean Studies published by the Korea Foundation, are "manual of the state event" or "rubrica for a state ceremony."

3. See the introductory essay by Han Yeong-wu, "Joseon sidae euigwe pyeonchan gwa hyeonjon euigwe josa yeongu" ("Compilation of euigwe in Joseon period and survey of the extant euigwe books"), in Gyujanggak sojang euigwe jonghap mongnok (Complete list of euigwe kept in Gyujang-gak Library) (Seoul National University, 2002).

4. See Yi Sŏng-mi, Kang Sin-hang, and Yu Song-ok, Jangseo-gak sojang garye dogma euigwe (On the Royal Wedding-Related Euigwe in the Jangseo-gak Library) (Seongnam: The Academy of Korean Studies, 1994); Yi Sŏng-mi, Kang Sin-hang, and Yu Song-ok, Joseon sidae eojin gwangye dogameuigwe yeongu (On royal portraiture related euigwe of the Joseon period) (Seongnam: The Academy of Korean Studies, 1997); Kim Yeong-un, Yi Sŏng-mi, et al., Joseon hugi gungjung yeonhang munhwa (On the late Joseon Palace banquets), I (Seoul: Minsok-won, 2003); Kim Yeong-un, Yi Sŏng-mi, et al., Joseon hugi gungjung yeonhang munhwa (On the late Joseon palace banquets), II (Seoul: Minsokwon, 2005). Also see Yi Sŏng-mi, Garyedogam euigwe wa misulsa (Joseon-dynasty books of royal wedding in art-historical perspective) (Seoul: Sowadang, 2008).

5. The earliest extant wedding euigwe is the 1627 book on the wedding of Crown Prince Sohyon, and the last one is the 1906 wedding of the crown prince (later, Emperor Sunjong). A total of twenty such books remain today, each in several copies.

6. See "A synopsis of the Garyedogam euigwe of King Heonjong, (1837)," in Yi Sŏng-mi, Joseon-dynasty books of royal weddings, pp. 390-96.

7. When the final selection of the bride was made, she was considered royalty and, therefore could not reside in her parents' home from that day on. A separate residence called byeolgung, or detached palace, was designated for her stay until the wedding day.

8. See chart no. 9, which lists the names of painters and the awards they received after the 1902 portrait-painting event, in Yi Sŏng-mi et al., On royal portraiture-related euigwe, p. 67.

9. See Kim Yeong-un, Yi Sŏng-mi, et al., On the late Joseon palace banquets, II, pp. 191-93, for a list of names of applicants for change of status as award after palace banquets.

10. See Yi Sŏng-mi, Joseon sidae geurim soggeui seoyang hwabob (Influence of Western painting methods on Joseon-period painting) (rev., Seoul: Sowadang, 2008), p. 211.

11. See Yi Sŏng-mi, "The Screen of the Five Peaks of the Joseon Dynasty," Oriental Art, vol. XLII, no. 4 (1996/ 7), pp. 13-24; Yi Sŏng-mi, "Screen of the Five Peaks of the Choson Dyasty" (revised), in Yi Sŏng-mi et al., Joseon wangsil eui misul munhwa (Art and culture of the Joseon royal court) (Seoul: Daewonsa, 2005), pp. 465-519.

12. Translated by James Legge in The Chinese Classics, vol. IV, The She King, Part II, bk. I, Ode VI, verses 1, 3, parts of 5, and 6 (repr. from the last editions of the Oxford University Press; Taipei: Wen-shih-che Ch'upanshe, 1972), pp. 255-58.

13. The earlier three (1688, 1713, 1735) and one made in 1872 do not include such illustrations.

14. Liji, juan 7, "Zengzi," conversation between Confucius and Zixia 子夏問曰三年之喪卒哭金革之事無辟也者禮與初有. . .曰君子不奪人之親亦不可奪親也 . . . in Yegi jip-seol daejeon (Gojeon yeong'in saseo ogyeong: Yegi (Seoul: Kyeongmunsa, 1981), pp. 39-40.

15. See Heo Buk-gu, Han Yeong-heui, et al., "Hanguk jeontong ggotggoji eui hyeongsik gwa naeyong e gwan [End Page 131] hayeo" ("Forms and imports of traditional flower arrangements of Korea"), Journal of Korean Flower Res. Soc., vol. 3, no. 1 (1994), pp. 61-71.

16. Since that time, no other banquets seem to have used this type of mat.

17. It was only in the mid-twentieth century that Korea began to produce sheet glass.

18. This information was provided to me by Prof. Jang Gyeong-heui of the University of Korean Traditional Culture.

19. The five types of banquets are, in reverse order of their scale, pungjeong, jinyeon, jinchan, jinjak, and sujak. Pungjeong is the largest and most sumptuous, while sujak is the simplest type of banquet. Kim Yeong-un, in his article "Joseon hugi gukyeon ui akmu yeongu" ("A study on the music and dance in palace banquets of the late Joseon period"), in Kim Yeong-un, Yi Sŏng-mi, et al., On the Late Joseon Palace Banquets, I, p. 18), coined the term guggyeon, or "national banquet," based on the traditional term gukka yeonrye, or national banquet rites.

20. This screen seems to be a replacement of an older one as it bears two inscriptions with a date corresponding to 1988, one by Yi Wang-jae (h. Maecheon, d. 2001), a contemporary calligrapher and one by a Yi royal descendant who identified himself as the twentieth-generation descendant of Prince Wanchang (1561-1623).

21. Some half-burned portraits, such as King Cheoljong's portrait, are now kept in the National Palace Museum of Korea, Seoul.

22. See Jeong Yeong-mi, "Joseon hugi Gwak Bunyang hangnak-do yeongu" ("A study on the screen of the happy life of Guo Ziyi"), M.A. thesis, The Academy of Korean Studies, 2000. She concludes that the screen borrowed themes from other paintings and combined them to create the new pictorial trope, and that, although Guo Ziyi was a Chinese historical figure, there did not develop in China the Korean type of screen painting celebrating his life.

23. See Yi Sun-ae and Jeong Dong-gu, Pyogu-Hanguk eui jeontong pyogu (Traditional Korean mounting) (Seoul: Cheonga chulpansa, 1986), p. 185, quoted in Jeong Yeong-mi, "Happy life of Guo Ziyi," p. 47.

24. See Gang Gwan-sik, Joseon hugi gungjung hwawon yeongu (A study on the court painters of the late Joseon period) (Seoul: Dolbege, 2001), for further information on this system of examination.

25. Nam Gong-cheol, Geumreung-jip (Nam's collected wrtings), chap. 20, quoted in O Ju-seok, Danwon Gim Hong-do (Seoul: Yeoolhwa-dang, 1998), pp. 174-75.

26. Kumja Paik-Kim, Hopes and Aspirations: Decorative Painting of Korea (San Francisco: Asian Art Museum, 1998); Taepyong seongdae reul ggum ggumyeo (Decorative paintings at court during the Joseon dynasty) (Chuncheon National Museum, 2004).

27. See n. 1.

28. See Bak Jeong-hye, Joseon sidae gungjung girok-hwa yeongu (A study on documentary paintings of the Joseon period) (Seoul: Ilchisa, 2000/2003), p. 274.

29. See Sajin euro boneun Joseon sidae saenghwal gwa pungsok (Life and customs of the Joseon period seen through photographs), catalogue entries by Jo Pungyeon (Seoul: Seonmun-dang, 1986), p. 144, for a photograph of a family posed in front of a royal banquet screen similar to that produced after the 1887 banquet.


Bak Jeong-hye






Byeongin Yangyo












daegwa joyong














eojin dosa dogam euigwe




Gang Gwan-sik


Gang Sin-hang


Gangdo Oegak


Garye dogam euigwe yeongu


geohaeng ilgi










Gim Hong-do


Gim Jin-gyu


Gim Yeong-un










gukga yeonrye


Gukjo oryeeui






Gwak Bun-yang Haengnak-do


Gwak Ja-eui






Gyeongguk daejeon



敎命 [End Page 132]



haehak bando


Han Yeong-wu


hanseong panyun














Hwangtaeja garye dogam euigwe




Hyegeonggung hongssi










jabi daeryeong hwawon




Jangseo-gak sojang garyedogam euigwe




Jeong Dong-su


Jeong Yeong-mi














Jo daebi


Jo Pung-yeon




Joseon sidae eojin gwangye dogam euigwe yeongu


Joseon sidae Gwak Bunyang haengrakdo yeongu


Joseon wangjo sillok








Jungjong Daewang Jeongreung gaejang euigwe










manhwa bangseok










Nam Gong-cheol






O Ju-seok













Sado seja















seja sigangwon




Seungjeongwon ilgi




silgwan daegwa


Sim Ik-chang


Sim Sa-jeong








Sohyeon seja






















Wonhaeng euilmyo jeongri euigwe




yeongjeong mosa dogam euigwe






Yi Gi-yeong


Yi Sŏng-mi


Yu Song-ok


Yi Wang-jae



曾子 [End Page 133]