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New Era of The Royal Ceramics - Embracing the Western-Style Porcelain in the Joseon Royal Court
International Cooperation Division

Contact 1 :  Kim Hyunjung, Exhibition & Publicity Department, National Palace Museum of Korea

                   T. 02-3701-7641

Contact 2 : Kwak Heewon, Exhibition & Publicity Department, National Palace Museum of Korea

                   T. 02-3701-7643

New Era of The Royal Ceramics

Embracing the Western-Style Porcelain in theJoseon Royal Court


The National Palace Museum of Korea (Director Kim, Dong-Young) is just a few steps away fromthe subway line 3, Gyeongbokgung Palace station. The Museum, closed since May as part of a government measure to prevent further spread of the Corona virus, has recently reopened. The first exhibition to greet the museum goers is aspecial exhibition titled “New Era of The Royal Ceramics - Embracing theWestern-Style Porcelain in the Joseon Royal Court" held from July 29 to October4, 2020.


The National Palace Museum of Korea specializes in archiving, research and exhibitions ofheritage artifacts from the Joseon Royal Court (1392 – 1910). Little known fact; the Museum has the largest collection of modern era Western-styleporcelain ware in Korea. Porcelain wares are practical objects, displaying diverse function and form depending on who their users are, and therefore canserve as excellent indicators that help us glimpse into the times they had been in use. Joseon was forced to open up its ports to the outside world under Japanese pressures in 1876. However, Joseon consciously made efforts to modernize itself as an independent modern state. The special exhibition looks into the stories these porcelain wares tell about the Joseon Royal Court andits efforts in the modernization process. A total of 400 pieces, 310 cases of relics, including not only Korean traditional porcelain ware of Korea, but alsowestern-style porcelain ware from France, U.K., Germany, Japan and China, willbe put on display under five different sections at the exhibition.

The exhibition has five sub themes. The first segment “Ceramic Consumption of the Joseon Royal Court” introduces porcelain ware master pieces in underglaze cobalt-blue from the Joseon Royal Courts, including the Yongjun, ceremonial jars with dragon designsand white porcelain wares with peony design in underglaze cobalt-blue, that was used for carrying alcoholic drinks or as flower vases, as well as other masterpieces excavated from the initial burial site of King Jeongjo (r. 1776-1800). This segment will introduce the visitors to over five centuries of porcelainware use within the Joseon Royal Court, before moving on to viewing the Royal Court’s Western-style porcelain ware.

The second section of the exhibition,“Background of the Embrace of Imported Ceramics by the Royal Court”, tells the story of changes within and outside Joseon Dynasty at a time when Western-style porcelain ware was introduced to the court. Following the signing of the Treatyof Ganghwa Island in 1876, Joseon starts to actively embrace western culture, in an effort to become a modern state. This part of the exhibition displays over 150 pieces of glass lanterns, including the glass lanterns with plum blossom seal in gold, that had decorated both the indoors and outdoors of the Royal Court, following the introduction of electricity in 1887. The colorful glass lanterns symbolize how Joseon has stepped into the age of light of moderntimes. The visitors will walk through a door decorated with glass lanterns toenter the exhibition hall and enjoy the Western-style porcelain of the RoyalCourt.


The third segment of the exhibition is titled “Ceramic Gifts Exchanged between Joseon andFrance”. In this section, the visitors will have the rare opportunity to beamong the first to see the White Porcelain “Salamis” Vase with Polychrome Decoration, which was produced by the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvresand presented as a gift by President Marie François Sadi Carnot (in office from1887 to 1894) to commemorate the signing of the The Korea-France Treaty of 1886. This was the very first time for Joseon to exchange diplomatic gifts of ceramics with the west. France, with its high artistic pride, has sent over porcelain ware made in Sèvres. In return, King Gojong gave two pieces of 12-13th century celadon and a pair of "flower treeon the pot".


The forth segment of the exhibition is titled “Western-style Banquets and Tableware”. The visitors can experience first-handthe royal banquets at the Joseon Royal Court. After Joseon opened its ports, the Joseon Royal Court would host Western-style banquets and invite the foreign diplomatic corp in an effort to gather information on international affairs. A Western-style kitchen that remains in the Changdeokgung palace Daejojeon site has been fully replicated for the exhibition, displaying cake moulds and Samovars, along with other relics that had been used for cooking in the Royal kitchen. The visitors will enjoy a unique experience of walking into a reconstructed royal kitchen of Changdeokgung. Western-style dinnerware, order-made by the French company Pillivuyt, is decorated with the coat of arms of the JoesonRoyal Court. A video, showing a traditional 12-course french cuisine, completewith Foie-gras pate, tenderloin steak with truffle, pheasant breast grape dish,etc., transports the visitors right into the banquet site of the past.


The fifth section, “Imported Vases That Adorned the Royal Court”, displays Japonisme flower vases and Chinese Peranakan enamel vases, which have become the mainstream porcelain ware after the firstWorld Expo. Construction of western-style buildings and decorating them withlarge flower vases that were in fashion at the time indicates efforts made bythe Joseon Dynasty to learn and adopt modern taste and culture. At the time, Japanese produced flower vases in Arita, Kyoto and Nagoya and exported them overseas. This exhibition is the first to exhibit these Japanese exported flower vases in large quantities that have been used in Korea. These flowervases have been produced by companies such as Koransha and Kinkozan in their own factories and are decorated with birds, flowers, dragons and charactersfrom ancient folklore stories.


Under the Corona pandemic situation, many people cannot come to the museum to enjoy the exhibition in person. To accommodate this situation, the exhibition will also open online at Daum gallery with images and explanations provided for the key relics. Also, every Thursday, a weekly upload of online contents, where the curator of the exhibition will share interesting behind-the-stage stories of the exhibition, will be presented through the National Palace Museum and the Cultural Heritage Administration’s Youtube channel. And lastly, a 3D image ofthe exhibition hall and a 360 degree VR contents will be opened to the public on September 1st. We sincerely hope that these measures will help more people enjoy the exhibition online.

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