- Sin Sukju’s Record on the Painting Collection of Prince Anpyeong and Early Joseon Antiquarianism
In their book Streams and Mountains without End: A Northern Sung Handscroll and Its Significance in the History of Early Chinese Painting, published in 1967, Wen Fong and Sherman Lee commented on the famous handscroll Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land (Fig. 1), done in 1447 by the Joseon court painter An Gyeon (act. ca. 1440–ca. 1470) for his patron, Prince Anpyeong (1418–1453): “Such a retardataire art, whether Korean or Chinese, is difficult to place in time and were it not for the incontestable fifteenth century date, one might argue for a Northern Sung attribution.”1 Their judgment clearly states that this scroll presents us with an instance of antiquarianism.
Ahn Hwi-joon’s careful comparison of Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land with Guo Xi’s famous hanging scroll Early Spring (dated to 1072) quite obviously reinforces Wen Fong’s and Sherman Lee’s point.2 Even though one might argue that An Gyeon’s choice of perspective and his preference for a two-dimensional representation of mountain surfaces is owing to Yuan interpretations of the Song master Guo Xi’s oeuvre, the atmospheric rendering of spatial recession gives the painting overall a more antique air.3 In addition, the iconography of Dream Journey is based on the well-known prose-poem Peach Blossom Spring by Tao Qian (aka Tao Yuanming, 365–427), which itself conveys the idea of a paradise-like physical and social space situated in the distant past. We may also, however, see An Gyeon’s work as an example—in fact, a visualization—not only of the patron’s personal taste, but, given the prince’s eminence among the political, social, and cultural elites of his time, also as a reflection of contemporaneous cultural trends.4 If so, shouldn’t we be able to find similar or related tendencies of antiquarianism in other 15th-century cultural and political contexts? In addition, another important question emerges: how can our own perspectives on Chinese painting history be modified by the predilections of the mid-15th-century Joseon cultural elite?
An Gyeon’s Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land is closely linked to the important 15th-century Korean text Hwagi, written in 1445 by the powerful politician and scholar Sin Sukju (1417–1475). Hwagi, or Record on Painting, describes a painting collection owned by Prince Anpyeong, son of King Sejong (r. 1418–1450), in which about 86 percent of the works were Chinese. The connection between An Gyeon’s painting and Hwagi lies in the role Prince Anpyeong himself played. He acted as patron of the court painter and commissioned Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land. Further demonstrating their close relationship, An Gyeon is the only Korean painter mentioned in Hwagi, although a number of other highly regarded mid-15thcentury Joseon painters are well known from contemporaneous and later sources. Among them are the brothers Gang Hui’an (1419–1465) and Gang Huimaeng (1424– 1483), prominent scholar-officials and members of the prince’s circle.5 We also know that An Gyeon had access to Prince Anpyeong’s collection and was thus able to shape his antiquarian style after Song and Yuan originals.
Prince Anpyeong’s collection contained 171 paintings and pieces of calligraphy credited to Chinese artists, the earliest being Gu Kaizhi (346–407).6 Sin Sukju lists thirty-three masters of the Tang, Song, and Yuan periods. The latest known master listed is Wang Mian (1287– 1359) who died a decade before the end of the Yuan. No contemporaneous mid-Ming master is mentioned. The collection emphasizes the Song (30 works by 6 painters, or 14 percent of the Chinese collection) and Yuan periods (129 works by 21 painters, or 74 percent). According to Sin Sukju, Prince Anpyeong owned seventeen works by Guo Xi (ca. 1010–1090) and twenty-six pieces of calligraphy and two bamboo paintings by Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). Two otherwise unknown Yuan painters, Wang Gongyan, who excelled in flower-and-bird painting, and the landscape painter Li Bi, are as well represented as the two famous masters, with twenty...