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Album of Verses about Plum Blossoms

Yi Hwang (Toegye)

Asian Art

This book of poetry, elegantly written in Chinese characters, celebrates the flowers of the plum tree, the first blooms to appear in very early spring and a symbol of fortitude, renewal, and hope. The author of the verses, who is also the calligrapher of the album, is best known by his creative name, Toegye. He is considered the father of Korean Neo-Confucianism, a philosophical movement that would inform every aspect of political, educational, religious, and literary life for four hundred years. His contributions are so fundamental to Korean history that he appears on the 1,000-won note, the equivalent of the U.S. one-dollar bill.
MEDIUM Album, ink on paper
DATES 16th century
DYNASTY Joseon dynasty
DIMENSIONS each page, image: 13 3/4 × 9 3/4 in. (35 × 24.7 cm) each page, including margins: 16 3/4 × 10 5/8 in. (42.5 × 27.0 cm) Overall, unfolded: 16 3/4 × 201 15/16 in. (42.5 × 513 cm) Overall, folded in case: 16 15/16 × 10 7/8 × 1 3/4 in. (43 × 27.7 × 4.5 cm)  (show scale)
MARKINGS Calligrapher's seal on first page.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CREDIT LINE Gift of the Carroll Family Collection
CAPTION Yi Hwang (Toegye) (Korean, 1501-1570). Album of Verses about Plum Blossoms, 16th century. Album, ink on paper, each page, image: 13 3/4 × 9 3/4 in. (35 × 24.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Carroll Family Collection, 2020.18.10 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, CUR.TL2020.25.2_overall.jpg)
IMAGE overall, CUR.TL2020.25.2_overall.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2020
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Album containing eighteen pages of calligraphy in Chinese characters, each page consisting of four columns of script. The text is verses about plum blossoms. The album has a title on the cover and is sealed by the calligrapher on the first (far right) page. It is mounted in the traditional accordion style, designed to be viewed two pages at a time. The outer cover is lined in brocade. The inner cover and first and last pages are lined in glossy white paper with metallic flecks. The next two pages (at start and finish) are lined in buff-colored paper with metallic flecks. The next two pages (at start and finish) are blank, in similar paper to what is used for the calligraphy. The album has an outer fabric-lined cardboard case that wraps around the book and secures with clasps. This outer case has a title written on metallic-flecked paper. The full text has not been translated, but one passage reads, Its pure colour of jade lightens the darkness of this vulgar world; Its noble character sets it apart from the noises of all decorous flowers. (Translation Kim Hongnam, 1997) Yi Hwang, better known by his alias, Toegye, was a very important and influential figure in Korean history, widely credited with introducing Neo-Confucianism to the country. This philosophy would become foundational to Korean intellectual and political life. Although he served in a public capacity as a diplomat, counselor, and college chancellor, he is best known for his writing and scholarly contributions. Called the "Chu Hsi of Korea," referring to the Chinese founder of Neo-Confucianism, he altered Chinese traditional teachings for Korean purposes. The philosophy introduced by Toegye became the official religion of the court, strictly excluding alternative interpretations of Confucianism. His teachings were also widely embraced among sixteenth-century political leaders in Japan. Perhaps the most telling indication of his importance to Korean culture is his appearance on the Korean 1000 Wan bill (the rough equivalent of US$1.00). Arrived in a wood storage box with fabric ties, not likely to be original to the album.
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