On 10 February 2023, the exhibition "Korea and the Armory Chamber. The History of the Coronation Gift to the Last Emperor" dedicated to the gifts offered by the Extraordinary Embassy of Korea to Emperor Nicholas II on the occasion of his coronation ceremony in 1896, will be inaugurated in the state anteroom of the Armory Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin Museums. The first visit of the official representatives of this "closed" country to Europe took place in a complicated political situation caused by Japan's interference in the domestic affairs of Korea, the monarch of which was getting significant assistance on behalf of Russia.
The gifts presented to the Russian Emperor have been kept in the Armory Chamber, and now, more than a hundred years since becoming a part of the collection, they will be shown at the exhibition.
The exhibition will feature five pieces of art made by Korean masters of the late 19th century: two section clothes chest ‘Nong’, two incense burners and two scrolls of the 1890s made by Jang Seung-eop – one of the most prominent Korean artists of that period, commonly known by his pseudonym Owon.
The ‘Nong' chest, one of the most spectacular objects, has been profoundly restored from 2020 to 2022 by the specialists of the Grabar Art Conservation Centre with the financial support of the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation. Such a type of chest, a traditional Korean piece of furniture intended for the feminine part of the house, was usually richly decorated and considered a symbol of well-being and success in life. The use of mother-of-pearl was widespread in decorating the chests made by local craftsmen in the late 19th - early 20th century. This adornment represents various benevolent symbols. For example, on the front doors one can find "Ten Immortals", including a water turtle, a crane, a deer and the fungus pulloch’o, a symbol of eternal youth.
The incense burners that have been restored in the Moscow Kremlin Museums are decorated with the images which also have important symbolic meanings: in addition to the traditional wishes of happiness represented by stylized bats and butterflies, they include geometric patterns of stylized hieroglyphs, the signs on one of them form the inscription "Grand longevity and prosperity".
Visitors of the exhibition will also have the opportunity to admire the scrolls, which are of the highest value within the whole coronation gift complex. They represent a series made in the still life, landscapes and genre painting, illustrating scenes from the lives of literary characters and plots from classical literature, mainly from the Chinese one. The scrolls were restored in 2022 in the restoration centre of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.
The first scroll illustrates the story of receiving the book "Tao te Ching" from the Taoist sage Laozi, containing his dogma, while the second scroll tells about the famous Chinese poet Li Bo.
The exhibition showing the exclusive and spectacular objects created in Korea almost a century and a half ago will be of interest not only to specialists in Asian culture, but also to a wide range of visitors to the Moscow Kremlin Museums.
The exhibition is accompanied by a special lecture programme entitled "Gifts of the Joseon Kingdom to Emperor Nicholas II". Visitors will learn about diplomatic relations between Russia and Korea in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, get to know the masterpieces of an outstanding artist Jang Seung-eop (Owon) of the late Joseon era and find out what the traditional decoration of a rich Korean home looked like.
For further information, please contact
The Moscow Kremlin Museum Press Office:
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