In 1866 in the Joseon Dynasty, French legions invaded the Korean peninsula in retaliation for the persecution of Catholicism and the execution of French priests, which resulted in a violent encounter centered upon the island of Ganghwa (강화도) on the west coast of the Korean peninsula.
An outer branch of the royal library, Oegyujanggak (외규장각), was situated in Ganghwa at that time. The French troops took all the valuable documents from the library before burning it down and brought them back to France. Among the documents were the Uigwe (의궤), which are official records that document the state rites and their protocol.
The records stored at the Oegyujanggak are particularly significant as they were mostly made for the king’s use. The paper, book binding, and cover are different from the copies made for the regular court’s reference; the painting inks and illustrations are of a higher caliber as well.
These royal books had been in France for the past 145 years and made their homecoming just this year, so this is the first time ever that these records are being shown to the public – it’s a truly historic exhibition. Historic significance aside, the exhibition itself is extremely interesting, as the records are not only full of text but of brillliant illustrations. The illustrations are vibrant and full of life (even when depicting a funeral procession), and give you a glimpse of how perspective and color were used during the Joseon era. Here are several examples of the illustrations:
The exhibition is being held at the Special Exhibition Hall in the National Museum of Korea. The museum’s permanent collections are displayed in spacious halls so taking in a bit of Korean history while you’re there can be a big plus. It’ll probably take you all day to tour the whole museum; the Oegyujanggak Uigwe exhibit will take you an hour (or more, if you’re a history buff as I am).
Along with the display of the books, there are other artifacts on display as well, and special multimedia displays to spice things up. A look into the multimedia displays:
Word of advice: since this is an educational sort of exhibition, there will be school groups visiting. I have to say, a group of elementary school kids is not ideal when you want to take in a historical exhibition. If you have a choice, avoid the weekends. The museum is open late on certain days of the week (check out the info below) so if you want to enjoy the exhibit in a serene atmosphere I suggest going then.
Special Exhibition Hall, National Museum of Korea
* Duration: July 19, 2011 ~ September 18, 2011
* Open :
Tue, Thur, Fri (9:00 ~ 18:00) / Wed, Sat (9:00 ~ 21:00) / Sun, Holidays (9:00 ~ 19:00)
Ticket sales end an hour before closing time
* Closed : Mondays
Admission : Free
Metro station Ichon (Line 4, exit #2 ) : around 5 minutes by walk to the West Gate
Address: Yongsan-gu Seobinggoro 137, Seoul
Tel : (02) 2077-9000
National Museum of Korea
Detailed description of the exhibition from the official site: (English)
Cultural Heritage Administration’s webpage about the books: