Publication : Central Asian Religious Paintings in the National Museum of Korea


Central Asian Religious Paintings in the National Museum of Korea, Seoul, National Museum of Korea, 2013.

Central Asian Religious Paintings in the National Museum of Korea, Seoul, National Museum of Korea, 2013.


The National Museum of Korea (Director Kim Youngna) announces a new publication: Central Asian Religious Paintings in the National Museum of Korea. This is the first volume of a series of catalogues that presents the Central Asian collection of the NMK.

Originating from Central Asia and currently in the NMK’s possession, the artifacts presented in the catalogue were among those collected from a Japanese expedition in the early 20th century led by a priest named Ōtani Kozui (1876−1948). Beginning in 1914, the collected artifacts were dispersed among various institutions in China and Japan. In 1916, Kuhara Fusanosuke (1869−1965) assumed responsibility for the remaining artifacts along with Villa Nirakuso in Kobe, and donated them to the Japanese Governor-General’s Office Museum in Korea. During Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, these items were put on display in Sujeongjeon Hall of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

After Korea’s liberation from colonial rule, the artifacts were obtained by the NMK. During the Korean War, they were taken to Busan along with other national treasures and later were relocated to the newly built museum (now the National Folk Museum) within Gyeongbokgung Palace. In 1986, when the NMK opened in the refurbished building that was formerly the Japanese Governor-General’s Office, part of the collection was displayed in the Central Asian Art Gallery.

The overall research of the collection was delayed for various reasons—including the war, difficulties related to the condition of the artifacts and the on-site surveys in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China to determine their sources prior to the country’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with China.

Following the normalization of Korea−China relations, curators at the NMK began to conduct on-site research. At the same time, more efforts were given to conservation science. In 2005, the NMK was relocated to Yongsan in Seoul and a new permanent gallery for Central Asian artifacts was open to the public.

Some of the artifacts were published in the catalogue titled Arts of Central Asia at the time of the collection’s relocation in 1986. Then in 2003, a selection of artifacts was introduced in the special exhibition catalogue, Arts of Central Asia: Collections in the National Museum of Korea. However, the whole collection has never been published. Thus, starting this year, the NMK plans to publish a series of catalogues with the aim of introducing the collection in its entirety according to themes. This is part of a larger project of research on the collections obtained during the Japanese colonial period.

The new publication contains photos of 77 murals and paintings on silk, cotton and paper. Most of them represent Buddhist themes, although one of the painting fragments is thought to be associated with Manichaeism. These artifacts originated in the northwestern part of China, at sites in Turpan, Kucha, Miran and Dunhuang.

The primary purpose of the catalogue is to provide both specialists and general readers with a guide to the NMK’s Central Asian paintings. In this sense, the catalogue includes listings of the important topics of discussion and literature related to each painting, in addition to new research. It also contains the result of scientific research on 39 artifacts using microscopy, infrared reflectography, radiography, and radiocarbon dating. Pigment analysis was also conducted using X-ray fluorescence spectrometers.

The publication of this new catalogue is highly significant in that it contains the results of comprehensive research encompassing history, art history and conservation science. Moreover, the publication is expected to develop stimulating discussions and future research on these important artifacts.


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