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Visualizing the Past: Collecting and Representing Chinese Antiquities in Late Chosŏn Korea


This dissertation examines collecting Chinese antiquities in Korea during the Chosŏn 朝鮮 dynasty (1392–1910) and its impact on visual and material culture. Through investigation of textual records and visual sources, it becomes apparent how collectors’ passions for Chinese bronzes contributed to new types of pictorial objects and how painters incorporated aspects of Chinese bronzes in their paintings and embroidery in response to increasing demands and shifts in artistic conventions. The aim is to offer insight into the cultural significance of acquiring Chinese bronzes and to illuminate the intellectual and artistic motivations of literati during the late Chosŏn dynasty.

Chapter One investigates the circumstances in which Chinese ritual bronzes were imported and revered, from the Koryŏ 高麗 (918–1392) through the Chosŏn dynasties. Ritual handbooks and illustrated catalogs reveal characteristics of Koryŏ and Chosŏn vessels, of bronze, celadon, and brass, that integrated ancient and archaistic models from Ming 明 (1368–1644) and Qing 清 (1644–1911) China. Chapter Two discusses the appreciation of Chinese antiques by the elite in Korea, who enriched their collections for their scholarly pursuits. Thus, collectors were a force in shaping the sociocultural environment along with the aesthetics that promoted new painting genres in the late Chosŏn dynasty. Chapter Three analyzes the ways in which Chosŏn artists appropriated motifs of Chinese bronzes and visualized patrons’ desire for Chinese antiquities, focusing on screens of Antiques that feature Chinese bronze vessels and on screens of Books And Scholarly Utensils, also known as ch’aekkŏri. Chapter Four considers Chinese bronzes in collectors’ portraits and in paintings of antiques and flowers. By comparing objects in these paintings to those in Chinese illustrated catalogs and archaistic bronzes, these two chapters explore possible pictorial sources, modified visual elements, and cultural transmission. Depicting Chinese antiquities enabled patrons to demonstrate their knowledge of Chinese culture as part of their own high cultivation and thereby to enhance their social prestige. The Chosŏn elite sought to claim their standing within their own society and to secure their status in East Asia through the reception of selected elements of Chinese culture and through the adaptation of these to their own traditions.

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