Exposition : Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom, 4 novembre 2013

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom

November 4, 2013 through February 23, 2014



Vous pouvez voir une sélection d’images ici.

(Click here to see works on view)


In the ancient world, the Korean kingdom of Silla (57 B.C.–A.D. 935) was renowned as a country of gold. Through nearly 100 spectacular objects created between A.D. 400 and 800—Silla’s seminal period—the landmark exhibition Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom presents the remarkable artistic achievements of a small kingdom that rose to prominence, embraced cosmopolitanism, and eventually gained control over much of the Korean peninsula. The exhibition is the first in the West to focus exclusively on the arts of Silla. Among the highlights are exquisite regalia discovered from the tombs of royalty and the elite; unique treasures made in places between China and the Mediterranean and preserved in Korea; and Buddhist icons and reliquaries reinterpreting pan-Asian styles with native aesthetics.

The exhibition features several designated National Treasures and many works with few parallels outside of Korea. Of special interest is a graceful and charming gilt-bronze sculpture of a bodhisattva in pensive pose, known as National Treasure 83, one of the most celebrated and beloved works in Korean art history.


About the Exhibition

Treasures from Silla Tombs

From the late fourth through the early sixth century, Silla royalty and elites were interred in aboveground stone chambers covered with impenetrable mounds made of layers of stone and earth. Treasures from these sites, located within the kingdom’s capital city (modern-day Gyeongju), have shaped our understanding of Silla culture of this period, especially with regard to beliefs and practices related to the afterlife. Moreover, they illustrate Silla’s complicated ties to the nomadic-pastoralist traditions of Eurasia.

Hwangnam Daechong (Great Tomb of Hwangnam), the largest Silla tomb, contained a double burial of a king and his queen together with all the essentials and luxuries needed for their immortal life: stunning gold regalia, including a crown-and-belt set; gold and glass-bead jewelry; vessels of clay and precious metals; weapons; and horse trappings and fittings for riding. Many other fifth- and sixth-century tombs have yielded similarly exquisite accessories and robust pottery.


Imported Luxuries and Exotic Imagery

Among the objects excavated from a number of Silla royal burials were foreign-made luxury goods, notably more than thirty Roman-style glass vessels. Found in tombs dating to the fifth and sixth centuries, they attest to the continuing importance of Mediterranean glass in international trade at that time. Other pieces, such as an extraordinary sheath and dagger and an intriguing, miniscule silver bowl, have few, if any, parallels elsewhere. Ceramics from China dating to the seventh through the ninth century, including porcelain, celadon, and tricolor earthenware, were also coveted.

From the mid-sixth century, Silla burials transformed from the large, impenetrable mounds of earlier times to smaller stone tombs with doorways. The Chinese practices of lining the path leading to the burial chamber with large stone sculptures and placing smaller clay figures inside it were adapted in the seventh and eighth centuries. Some of these figures represent foreigners, primarily individuals from Central or West Asia. It remains unclear whether these peoples reached Korea, but their depictions in Silla art suggest that they would have been known to the many Koreans who visited and worked in China at that time.


Buddhism: A New Tradition

Officially adopted about 527, the Indian religion of Buddhism completely transformed Silla society and culture, spurring both changes in burial customs and the creation of new artistic traditions. The use of gold provides a visual clue to this shifting cultural landscape. Once crafted into regalia and personal adornments, this precious material, used especially as gilding on bronze, became a medium for Buddhist icons and reliquaries.

By the time it entered Korea, Buddhism, founded centuries earlier (ca. 400 B.C.) by the historical Siddhartha Gautama, had become extraordinarily multifaceted, with a wide range of practices and traditions and related texts and images. In addition to representations of Siddhartha (also known as Shakyamuni), Buddhist imagery includes other Buddhas, transcendent beings who have achieved a state of enlightenment; bodhisattvas, spiritually advanced entities who have chosen to remain accessible to others in the phenomenal world; and a range of attendant, often protective, deities.

Silla Buddhist art shares stylistic traditions with that found in China, which in turn evokes earlier imagery from India and Central Asia. Korean representations of Buddhas and bodhisattvas from the sixth and early seventh centuries are characterized by round, unarticulated bodies sometimes covered with thick, cascading drapery. Later Buddhist icons have sensuous physiques with articulated chests and waists and wear thin clothing that defines, rather than hides, the body.


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