Monday, June 06, 2011

A Trip to the National Museum of Korea

Buddhist Hanging Scroll for Outdoor Rituals

My wife Sun-Ae and I had an afternoon free of the kids yesterday since En-Uk was enjoying a weekend soccer trip and Sa-Rah can take care of herself, so we visited the National Museum of Korea, which we last visited over five years ago though we had promised ourselves to visit sooner. As I wrote after that earlier visit:
I especially want to see the Central Asian Art exhibit again and take more time. The curators knew about Central Asian Manichaeism and even had on display a page from one of the illuminated manuscripts found at Turfan.

The lighting was poor, however, so I couldn't make out the identity of the figures in the painting, nor could I see if the page contained any script. But the real mystery is how this Manichaean fragment ended up in the National Museum of Korea.

That, I'd like to know.
I didn't get to find out, however, for we spent much of our afternoon looking at traditional Korean musical instruments. My wife has talent in music, though she finds little time to practice the piano, so she's quite interested in such things. I know rather less about music, never having studied it -- nor have I ever gotten any musical training -- but I trailed along after her and learned a bit. We also took some time to look at an exhibit on Korean paintings from the Joseon Era, a topic in which my ignorance rivals even my already acknowledged, vast ignorance on musical instruments.

We did, however, see something that I know a little more about, that "Buddhist Hanging Scroll for Outdoor Rituals" on loan from Naesosa Temple. Not that I actually know anything about that particular scroll, just that I have an interest -- and some training -- in religious studies. The scroll is enormous, nearly 10 meters by 10 meters, and the National Museum's official site tells us:
Buddhist hanging scrolls are Buddhist paintings for Buddhist rituals that are hung on flagpole supports in front of a Buddhist sanctuary on days when huge crowds gather. One such occasion is Buddha's Birthday. Buddhist rituals were held to overcome the sufferings of life through the strength of Buddha such as disease, hunger, war, and natural disaster. Large Buddhist hanging scrolls were hung so that many people could see them from a distance, especially during rituals held to pray for the rebirth of the spirits of the dead in heaven.

The Buddhist hanging scroll for outdoor rituals from Naesosa Temple was done in June 1700. At the center is Shakyamuni Buddha, encircled by six Bodhisattvas and Buddhas in an oval arrangement. This Buddhist hanging scroll has a red border to the left and right of the aureola. Gold paint was used to write down each of the Buddha’s names, thus making this scroll valuable for research on the iconography of Buddhist hanging scrolls in the latter half of the Joseon Dynasty. This iconography is based on 『Beophwagyeong』 (the Lotus Sutra) and conforms to the figures named in the list of Buddhas included in the Yeongsanhoe ritual manual that was published in those times. This iconography, therefore, has great significance in that it is based on a Buddhist ritual manual.

On the bottom of the Buddhist hanging scroll is a list of the names of 49 people who made donations for the creation of the hanging scroll. Of special interest to us are the names of the Gwak brothers from Posan. The main donor, Gwak Seon-heung, is recorded in his genealogy as having passed away on July 6, 1679. It is presumed that the hanging scroll was done in June 1700 by the family and relatives of the deceased first son, Seon-heung, so that the deceased could be guided to heaven.
I guess that poor Gwak Seon-heung was fated to wander for 21 years until the scroll was finally painted to offer help. It doesn't appear to be a map, so I suppose that we're intended to infer that the heavenly figures depicted descended to Mr. Gwak and guided him safely to their celestial home, for the description doesn't specify. This description, incidentally, is in fairly clear English, but this sentence could be better expressed:
Buddhist rituals were held to overcome the sufferings of life through the strength of Buddha such as disease, hunger, war, and natural disaster.
We know what is meant, of course, but that's really awkward. And this sort of marking just isn't English:
I think that italics or double quotation marks would better serve here. And there's also the 'enormity' of this, which I haven't quoted above but which appears in the museum's longer description:
Buddhist hanging scrolls from the Joseon Dynasty can only be exhibited in certain spaces because of their sheer enormity.
While I don't see any "excessive wickedness or outrageousness" in this scroll, I'll just take the museum's word for it.

My wife and I didn't have more than a couple of hours, so we'll need to return, and sooner than five years hence, I hope. That ought to be doable, for we discovered that the same subway line that I take to work, the Jungang Line, runs from our nearby Mangu Station to Ichon Station in relatively short order.

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At 2:29 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

can only be exhibited in certain spaces because of their sheer enormity

some days ago the local news, dealing with a model-making exhibition, praised all those "professional artists of reproduction."

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

They must have been thinking of models like Gisele Bündchen, who has reproduced with her husband, Tom Brady . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:27 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

a wonderful (tho small) Bund...

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

More like a Gänzchen . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:57 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

P.S. Buddhism is as interesting a subject as Milton :-D

At 6:09 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's probably more interesting, and more fairly compared with Christianity as a whole (rather than with Milton's heretical sort).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:17 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

oh, I was referring to our comments which, in both cases, completely dealt with something else


At 6:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oh . . . right.

Jeffery Hodges

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