Portrait of Ch'ae Che-Gong, Prime Minister of Korea under King Ch'ongjo (r.1776-1800), dated 1789. The figure is seated wearing a pink robe and a rhinocerous horn belt. Inscription tells us that the painting was done when he was age 73. Possibly by Yi Myong-Gi (c.1760-1820). Ink and colours on silk.
- 1789 (Dated.)
- Made in: Korea
- Height: 1420 millimetres (with mount)
- Width: 755 millimetres (with mount)
- Height: 965 millimetres
- Width: 595 millimetres
Inscription TranslationA portrait of Bun-am Ch'ae Sang-guk (Prime Minister Ch'ae) at the age of 70.
In the year of ki-yu (1789) King Ch'ongjo commanded my portrait to be painted and brought in. As for this spare copy of the portrait, I intened that my son Hong-kun should treasure it and after it for me. Alas, my son died before me! As I write a few as a post-script on (the portrait) by Yi Myong-ki, tears flow from my eyes. Written by Bun-ong at the age of 73 (1791).
Most of the extant Choson period portraits date to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and are of scholar-officials, many of the portraits having been preserved carefully by their descendants. Portrait painting was closely connected with the Confucian importance of family lineage. There was a great increase in portrait painting of meritorious subjects or 'kongsin' during the Choson dynasty. Sometimes as many as a hundred people were given this title at once, as a result of a distinguished service and it was a great honour for the whole family and succeeding generations. The portrait which inevitably accompanied the award of this title was usually carried out to a formula, with the subject dressed in his official robes, his rank badge on his chest and black silk hat on his head, seated with his hands folded.Comments by Prof Park Hyunjung, Jeonju University (Korean Court Painting workshop, SOAS/BM, 29 March 2010):
The first one is a portrait of Ch’ae, Che-gong who was prime minister during reign of the King Chŏng-jo (1776-1800) in the Chosŏn dynasty.
As you know, portraits are useful for studying Chosŏn clothing because they provide a very accurate representation of the clothes worn. In this picture, the subject is wearing a si-bok, which is a kind of uniform for court officials. At that time court officials used four different types of uniform, each for different occasions. One of them, sang-bok, had two forms. Officials wore these sang-bok for some ceremonies and at the daily morning audience with the monarch. Si-bok (in this picture) was a simpler version of the sang-bok that was worn for everyday activities at court. The main difference between the regular sang-bok and the si-bok was the amount of decoration. The sang-bok was adorned with rank badges, called hyung-bae, while the si-bok had no rank badges.
Si-bok were often made in light pink.
The special feature of the sang-bok and si-bok was that it had round collar, which you can see here. So its original name was ‘dan-ryŏng’ which means literally ‘round neckline’. In fact, we usually refer to this garment by the name dan-ryong in Korean. You can also see that it looks like a tunic that would have been pulled over the head, but although it is not easy to see in this picture, si-bok actually opened at the front. It was fastened with a knot on the upper right shoulder and with strings near the sleeve seem on the right.
Dan-ryŏng were actually worn over another coat that had a straight collar (like the one of our second portrait), and these two coats were usually of contrasting colours. Here you can see that the dan-ryŏng is fastened with two long strings called ko-rŭm. But look, why you can see here ‘blue’ is that the pink one is from the dan-ryŏng and the blue one belonged to the inner coat underneath. The two coats were tied together. And we can even see the blue colour, here, showing through the translucent pink.
Now let’s look at the hat. It was called a sa-mo and was made of horse hair with two wings attached to the back toward the left and right sides. This hat was similar to the one the King used, but differed in that the ‘wings’ on the king’s hat pointed skyward.
As I just mentioned, ceremonial sang-bok were adorned with rank badges which indicated the rank of the wearer according to the pattern used. However, rank was also displayed on the si-bok through the materials used in the belt plates. These belts were adorned with plates made of rhinoceros horn, gold, or silver depending on the official’s rank.
2005 11 Apr-10 Jul, Seoul Arts Centre, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2008, Sep-Nov, Osaka, National Museum of Ethnology, 'Self and Other'
2008 Dec 6-2009 Jan 25, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, 'Self and Other'
2009 Feb 7-Mar 29, Hayama, Museum of Modern Art, 'Self and Other'
2010 - 2011 Jul - Jan, BM Galleries, Gallery 67 Korea
Stanley Smith Collection (Missionary in Korea, 1910-1914)
Portrait of Ch'ae Che-Gong, Prime Minister of Korea under King Ch'ongjo, dated 1789. The figure is seated wearing a pink robe and a rhinocerous horn belt. Inscription tells us that the painting was doone when he was 73. Possibly by Yi Myong-Gi.
If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: email@example.com
Object reference number: RFC4669
British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.
The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.