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An Introduction to the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910)

Scholar's accoutrements (chaekkeori), approx. 1860

Scholar's accoutrements (chaekkeori), approx. 1860, by Yi Eungnok (active late 1800s). Korea. Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Ink and colors on paper. Acquisition made possible by the Koret Foundation, the Connoisseurs' Council and Korean Art and Culture Committee. Re-mounting funded by the Society for Asian Art, 1998.111.

The Joseon dynasty (13921910) was founded by the powerful Goryeo (9181392) military commander Yi Seong-gye, who named it Joseon. Yi Seong-gye moved the capital to Hanyang (now Seoul), and allied himself with a group of reform-minded Confucian scholars, who reorganized Korean society using the teachings of Confucius as their guiding principles. These teachings emphasized order and peace based on the cultivation of harmonious interpersonal relationships and proper conduct.

The Joseon dynasty is often characterized as yangban society. Yangban, meaning "two orders," refers to the civil and military branches of officialdom, which governed the state according to the rules and regulations laid out in the national code. Appointments to government posts, the gateways to success, were achieve through state examinations. Men of the yangban class were privileged to receive certain types of higher education. 

For the most part, the arts of the Joseon dynasty mirrored yangban tastes. Men of this class placed great emphasis on the qualities of restraint and unassuming simplicity. The types of painting most popular during this dynasty were portraits of high officials and ancestors, actual rather than imaginary landscapes, and genre paintings depicting the everyday life of ordinary people. From the mid1700s onward, many painters took up some Western techniques of rending space and form. In contrast to the restrained yangban artwork, folk paintings produced for the masses were refreshingly creative in their use of bold colors and playful forms.