The Calligraphy and Painting section displays masterful examples of traditional Korean painting, Buddhist painting, and calligraphy, allowing visitors to appreciate the subtle yet striking blending of line and color that is inherent to Korean calligraphy and painting.
Calligraphy is the art of decorative and harmonious penmanship. In Asian calligraphy, the artist generally seeks to create a sense of inspiration and grace through strong and soft strokes of the brush and changes in the lines of the letters or ideograms. Through calligraphy, letters can express emotion and thought not only by the words they form, but by their appearance. Hence, great calligraphy conveys aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual beauty.
In Korea, calligraphy was a means of artistic expression for elite literati and classical scholars who were well versed in humanistic knowledge, poetry, and literature. It was widely believed that handwriting was a reflection of one’s mind and personality, so for centuries people strived to cultivate their minds and nurture diligence by improving their penmanship. Korean calligraphy combines Chinese characters and Korean script. Prior to the 15th century, calligraphy in Korea was limited to Chinese characters, and thus was practiced almost exclusively by scholars, as most people could not read or write Chinese. However, in 1446, King Sejong promulgated Hunminjeongeum (Hangeul, the Korean alphabet), which was designed to allow the greater public to easily learn to read and write. Hence, Korean script calligraphy developed in everyday life, though it was still practiced primarily by royal and noble families.
The Calligraphy Gallery showcases the finest works of master calligraphers and presents epigraphical artifacts, such as rubbed copies and tombstones, to enhance the understanding and appreciation of calligraphic culture.
Korean painting came into its own and established a distinctive tradition during the Joseon period. Professional painters at the Royal Academy of Painting (Dohwaseo) demonstrated their skill through documentary pictures of ceremonial palace events, while royal family members, nobility, and men of the literati also took up painting as a pastime and explored their own aesthetic world. The Painting Gallery features paintings from the Joseon Dynasty classified by theme, such as: genre paintings; portraits; landscapes; flower, bird, and animal paintings; paintings of the Four Gracious Plants; royal court paintings; and folk paintings.
Buddhist paintings, intended to convey the Buddha’s teachings, include icon paintings hung at temples as objects of worship, sutra illustrations, and ornamental paintings for embellishing temple structures. The Buddhist Painting Gallery is divided into works from the Goryeo and Joseon Dynasties, which are further organized by theme. Beginning with paintings from sacred Buddhist scriptures, it also showcases Buddhist paintings for sanctuaries, and pictures of Bodhisattvas, Buddha’s disciples, and Buddhist monks of high virtue. Also, Buddhist hanging scrolls for outdoor rituals are thematically rotated for display in an exposed atrium.