Japanese people seeking calligraphies and paintings gathered day and night. Park Ji-young (朴之英) and Jo Jeong-hyeon (趙廷玹), the Sajagwan civil officials and the court painter Kim Myeong-guk (金明國) could hardly stand the crush. Kim Myung-guk was on the verge of tears.
倭人求書畫者, 日夜坌集, 朴之英趙,廷玹金明國, 不勝其苦, 金明國至欲出涕。
- Kim Seryeom (金世濂), Haesalog (東溟海蹉錄), the record of the 1636 Korean Embassy to Japan
Bodhidharma Paintings (達磨圖) by “Joseon* Envoy Painters”
Many diplomatic missions were sent from the Joseon court to the Japanese shogunate after the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598). Professional artists, hwawon (畵員),who were officials in Dohwaseo (圖畵署) , the royal academy of painting, were sometimes requested by the Japanese to produce paintings and calligraphy and were welcomed as “painter envoys.” Zen paintings (禪宗畵) in particular were popular at that time in Japan, and the artists drew a large number of Buddhist works, many of which survive in Japan today. The Bodhidharma paintings in this exhibition depict the first patriarch of Chan K: Son; J: Zen Buddhism in China. The works are believed to have been produced in Japan by Joseon Envoy Painters. Let’s take a look at the unique Bodhidharma paintings produced as a result of the exchange between Korea and Japan.
*Joseon dynasty, 1392–1910
Kim Myeong-guk (金明國), 1600–?, Bodhidharma (達磨圖)
Joseon dynasty, 17th century, ink on paper, 57 x 83cm. National Museum of Korea. ⓒNational Museum of Korea
This painting of Bodhidharma was painted by Kim Myeong-guk, who participated as a court painter in a Joseon mission. This painting only depicts with the upper body of the Bodhidharma who is wearing headscarf. It is believed that it was painted in either 1636 or 1643 when Kim went to Japan and that it was drawn at the request of the Japanese. It was originally owned by Japanese collector Mori Goichi (森悟一), and now housed in the National Museum of Korea
At that time, Kim Myung-guk was highly regarded in Japan. According to the records written about the mission by government officials, he had no time to rest because the Japanese flocked to get his paintings. An official diplomatic document shows that Japanese government requested that Kim participate in the fifth embassy in 1643. Of his 30 extant works, 13 are currently preserved in Japan.
On the left edge of the painting, Kim Myeong-guk's pen-name, Yeondam (蓮潭), Lotus Pond, is written, and it is followed by red seals reading “Yeondam” and “Myeongguk from the Kim family (金氏明國)”
Bodhidharma's robes are drawn with boldly-simplified-single-stroke (減筆), and the painting deftly uses thick and thin lines. The large, penetrating eyes highlight the image of the Bodhidharma who emphasized the practice of intuitive enlightenment instead of being bound by scriptures or knowledge.
See other paintings drawn by the court painters accompanied the missions
Kim Myeong-guk (金明國), Bodhidharma Crossing the Yangtze River on a Reed (達磨折蘆渡江圖)
Joseon dynasty, 17th century, ink on paper, 98.2 x 48.2cm. National Museum of Korea. ⓒNational Museum of Korea
Bodhidharma Crossing the Yangtze River on a Road is a drawing of an old Buddhist legend related to Bodhidharma. The story goes like this: Emperor Wu (武帝) of Liang (梁) could not fully understand the teachings of Zen Buddhism so Bodhidharma simply stepped on a reed and using it as boat crossed the Yangtze River on to Shao-Lin Temple. The fluttering robe and his two feet planted on a thin reed represent Bodhidharma’s arduous passage on the religious path full of hardships.
On the lower right is written the pen-name "Chwiong (酔翁)", used by Kim Myeong-guk in his later years.
The intensity of the big bright eyes is penetrating, and the bold and powerful expression of brush strokes are like those of the Bodhidharma painting seen above.
Han Si-gak (韓時覺), Bodhidharma (達磨圖)
Joseon dynasty, 17th century, ink on paper, 89 x 31.4cm. Busan Museum, Korea. ⓒe-Museum
Han Si-gak (韓時覺,1621–?) was a painter of the mid-Joseon period, who worked as a professor in the Do Hwa-seo, the Royal Academy for court painters. Han visited Japan in 1655 as a member of the Joseon embassy.
Bodhidharma is drawn in wet black ink, and only his face and one bent leg are depicted.
On the left side of the painting, Seoltan (雪灘), the pen name of the painter appears, and on the top page, it is written as "Hwang-byeok mok’am (黄檗 木菴)", read Ōbaku-shū Mokan in Japan).
The monk Mogam, called Mokuan Shōtō (木庵性瑫, Mogam Seongdo) in Korean pronunciation), was a monk from the Qing-dynasty China who moved to Japan and became the patriarch of the Ōbaku sect of Buddhism (黃檗宗). He is known to have lived in Manpukuji (萬福寺) temple in Kyoto.
This painting is presumed to have been painted by Han Si-gak at the request of the Japanese when he participated in the embassy. This painting well illustrates how East Asian figures at the time actively communicated with one another.
Zen Paintings, the Art of Sudden Enlightenment
Bodhidharma paintings are representative Zen paintings. Zen paintings are paintings that express the spiritual world of Zen Buddhism and themes related to Zen. Zen Buddhism emphasizes intuitive enlightenment. The Zen paintings were mainly drawn with simple brush strokes using an ink wash.
What are the differences?
You may sense that Bodhidharma Crossing the Yangtze River on a Reed is quite different from other Buddhist paintings seen in temples. In what ways do they feel different?