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Portrait of Seosan Daesa, Hyujeong, approx. 1593–1650

Portrait of Seosan Daesa, Hyujeong

Portrait of Seosan Daesa, Hyujeong, approx. 15931650. Korea. Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Ink and colors on silk.  Museum purchase, City Arts trust Fund, 1992.345.

Seosan Daesa, Hyujeong (1520-1604) was a famous seon (zen) Buddhist priest who taught the importance of meditation and the unity of three major teachings in East Asia-Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. When Japan invaded Korea in 1592, he rallied Buddhist monks to fight against the invading forces. For his valor he was awarded the prestigious title of "Most Eminent seon Teacher in the Nation, the Sole Commander of the seon Buddhist Forces, the Venerable Deunggye".   The abbreviated title, Gukildo Daeseonsa Deunggye Cheongseo-dang Daesa, appears in the cartouche on the upper left in this painting.

He is depicted wearing his monastic robe and holding in his left hand a priest's flapper (bulja) with a dragon's-head finial.  The dragon in turn holds in its mouth an elaborate chimelike attachment made of a floral form with long white tassels.  His monk's habit of bluish-gray is trimmed with black borders, while his outer robe is made of red and green fabrics.  The red cloth covering the back of his chair matches the red of the monk's shawl (gasa) and the side panel of his chair.  The white color of his inner robe next to the black trimmings along the neckline and sleeves not only makes a strong contrast, but also draws the viewer's attention to his face.  The penetrating eyes and tightly closed mouth of an otherwise gentle face reflect his strong personality, which enabled him to assume the position of leadership among Buddhist monks as teacher and commander especially during a national crisis. 

The special position the sitter must have occupied in the early Joseon Buddhist hierarchy as the great seon teacher can be detected in the sumptuous chair decorated with dragon heads on which he sits, his flapper, also decorated with a dragon-head finial, the back of his chair, luxuriously trimmed with bands with diamond shapes enclosing a rosette surrounded by stylized wave patterns, the hems of his gasa, embroidered with delicate floral and cloud patterns, and his multicolored silk shoes.  The important stylistic features of early Joseon-dynasty portrait painting, seen here include fluid but even brush lines; no evidence of shading in the face; long, steady brush lines without flourishes to depict his robe; and finally the unpainted background. 

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