Features / Report

Likeness and Legacy in Korean Portraiture

posted 02 Sep 2021

San Francisco — Drawing a line from centuries of Confucian tradition to today’s selfie-culture, Likeness and Legacy in Korean Portraiture presents exquisite traditional draft and finished paintings alongside innovative sculptures, mixed media, and paintings from recent decades. Likeness and Legacy is exclusively at the Asian Art Museum from Aug. 27 to Nov. 29, 2021.

The centerpiece of the exhibition is a series of portraits of Bunmu (renowned military) meritorious officials from the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) initially commissioned in 1728 by King Yeongjo (reigned 1724–1776) as a reward for quelling an armed rebellion that threatened his young regime. These portraits are incredibly valuable studies that showcase the care, craft, and precision of official Korean portraiture. Under the influence of Confucian ideals, Joseon-dynasty portrait painters aimed to capture their sitters’ personalities with individualized facial expressions—down to astonishing details such as chicken pox scars. Each portrait of Bunmu officials depicts the face of the sitter in all its particularity while adhering to a standardized format. The set of eight drafts in Likeness and Legacy actually date to 1751, when an additional series of portraits of the original sitters was recommissioned. For the Bunmu officials still alive in 1751, this generation gap is reflected in the officials’ advanced age; for those officials who had already passed away, artists based the drafts on the initial 1728 portraits, freezing their “likeness” in time.

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