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National Museum of Korea holds exhibition of Goryeo Buddhist paintings

The National Museum of Korea is holding an exhibition titled, "Masterpieces of Goryeo Buddhist Painting - A Long Lost Look after 700 Years" from October 12 to November 21.

This is the largest exhibition of Goryeo Buddhist paintings ever held, and most of works are being introduced to modern Korean audiences for the first time. The exhibition includes 108 Goryeo- era artifacts, including 61 Goryeo Buddhist paintings from Korean, Japanese, North American, and European collections.

(Photo: The National Museum of Korea)

Goryeo Buddhist paintings are religious art that expresses the prevailing culture of the Goryeo era, and are treasured for their graceful shapes, vivid colors, and strong lines. Unfortunately, many of the works have been in public and private collections in far-flung locations such as Japan, the US, and Europe, and inaccessible to a broader Korean audience. One of paintings in the exhibit, "Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara," has been housed at Senso-ji temple in Japan, and has never been on display for the public.

The exhibition is divided by themes. The first section, "Buddha: The Enlightened One," focuses on depictions of the Buddha. "Amitasamjondo," usually housed at Samsung Leeum Museum, shows the Buddha approaching the dead to welcome them into paradise. 

"Bodhisattva: Savior of Sentient Beings," displays paintings of Avalokiteshvara and Kshitigarbha, important beings who vow to help all sentient beings achieve nirvana. The "Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara" from Senso-ji appears in this section.

(Photo: The National Museum of Korea)

The "Five Hundred Arhats" series was painted in 1235 and 1236 and is displayed in the third section, "Arhat: Paragon of Spiritual Practitioners." Seven of the 14 works in this series are housed at the National Museum of Korea. Three more pieces were borrowed from collections in the US and Japan, bringing together almost all of the known paintings.

"Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Neighboring Countries," exhibits Chinese and Japanese Buddhist paintings from the same historic period. Through these works, visitors are given an overarching view of Buddhist art in East Asia. Three Western Xia Buddhist paintings from the 12th and 13th centuries from State Hermitage Museum in Russia, which were excavated from Khara Khoto by the Kozlev expedition of 1909, will be on display. Together with the "Amitasamjondo" from the Samsung Leeum Museum, they help contribute to a wider view of the Buddhist culture in the period.

"Inheritance of the Tradition," is the last section of the exhibition concentrating on the transition from Goryeo Buddhist paintings to those of the Joseon era, especially Buddhist paintings from the royal house in the early Joseon era. Two works from the "Yaksasamjondo," a series of 400 Buddhist paintings by Queen Munjeong to celebrate the rebuilding of Hoeam Temple in 1565, will be on display in this section. 

Adult admission is 3,000 won, while students up to age 18 receive reduced admission prices of 1,000 won, and students between the ages of 19 and 25 are admitted for 2,000 won. 

For more information, please visit

By Jessica Seoyoung Choi Staff Writer 

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