Reproductions of Koguryŏ funerary art. Context and evolution, typology, diffusion.

Lecture by Nae-Young Ryu, Doctor of Art History.

In the ancient Korean kingdom of Koguryŏ sumptuous funerary paintings were made from the IVe to VIIe century, testifying to a developed civilization. They are found today in China, in the area of ​​Jí'ān, and in North Korea, in that of P'yŏngyang.

These representations, classified in 2004 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are the oldest Korean pictorial testimonies existing today. They reveal a great cultural mix, influenced as they were by arts and techniques from China or Central Asia, and which in turn influenced the art of Japan.

The very varied subjects painted on the walls and ceilings of the chambers and sepulchral passages present innumerable figures based on Chinese cosmology, steppe culture, Taoist thought or Buddhist beliefs.

These paintings developed in three main periods. The first two are characterized by scenes from the life of the deceased, with official images, social images or more everyday images, showing hunting parties, performances of dances and acrobatics, traditional struggles or even religious processions. The last period sees the appearance of Taoist images, immortals or deities of the four cardinal points. And, alongside the human or anthropomorphic figuration, a profusion of very singular ornamental motifs.

Since the fall of the kingdom in the VIIe century and until very recently, these funerary murals located inside the tumuli have been invisible. It was not until modern times that the tombs were excavated and reproductions began to be made.

The first to have taken photographs and to have them published was the French sinologist Édouard Chavannes, following his trip to China in 1907. Works of quality and importance were then carried out by Japanese scientific and artistic teams during the period occupation of the country. After the birth of the two current Korean states, new works were initiated, extending the previous ones and also distinguishing themselves from them, first separately on both sides, then jointly. At the same time, work will also be carried out in China.

Our conference will aim to briefly retrace the history, already more than a hundred years old, of the very numerous reproductions of the funerary paintings of Koguryŏ, mainly Japanese, North Korean and South Korean, which have been declined on multiple supports, photographs in black and white on glass plates, life-size or reduced painted copies, manually and digitally restored computer-generated images.

The conference will follow three axes, which will intertwine: the context of the birth of reproductions and their evolution, naturally linked to political and social history; their rich typology, closely deriving from the different techniques used over time; finally, their distribution, in particular in publications of various types, but also in other forms, such as in exhibitions or in the very recent digital animations.

A short history of images will thus emerge, and in particular of those astonishing images that are reproductions of works of art. A history all the more necessary since it is precisely through this particularly rich set of reproductions that we can now know, often in depth, these founding paintings of Korean art, the originals of which are unfortunately difficult to access or even inaccessible. .


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