paintings are works expressing the Buddhist doctrines and teachings that are produced to ornament Buddhist temple halls. A Buddhist statue that was the main object of worship was enshrined in the central hall of the temple and a painting was hung behind it to beautify the world of the Buddha. The Buddhist Painting Gallery,
located on the second floor of the Permanent Exhibition Hall at the National Museum of Korea, gives visitors an overview of the trends and characteristics of Korean Buddhist painting, featuring items ranging from sutra illustrations that convey the contents of the Buddhist sutras in condensed form to colossal Buddhist paintings called gwaebul, which were hung up for outdoor ceremonies.
As paintings are vulnerable to light, all exhibits in the Buddhist Painting Gallery are replaced every six months. In February 2022, the exhibits were replaced under the theme “Monk Artisans: The Unfinished Story,” in connection with the special exhibition Monk Artisans of the Joseon Dynasty. The Buddhist artisans of the Joseon Dynasty were both monks and artists, and formed a group who greatly enriched the culture of the Joseon Dynasty. Among Korea’s Buddhist monk artisans, some 2,400 painters have been identified so far.
The stories of the monk artisans that could not be introduced in the special exhibition are told in the Buddhist Painting Gallery. Here you can explore various aspects of the work of monk artisans, who pursued both enlightenment and beauty, including the drafts that formed the base drawings for their works and their finished paintings, unexpected encounters between master and disciple, and the works of modern monk painters carrying on the traditions of their late Joseon predecessors. In addition, the gallery is a special place where you see the giant gwaebul, which can otherwise only be seen at temples.
One might imagine that Joseon’s Buddhist culture involved only spiritual practices as simple as ink wash paintings – that is, before facing these overwhelming gwaebul. Buddhist Hanging Scroll at Sudeoksa Temple in Yesan, exhibited from April 13, was produced by four monk painters, including Eungnyeol and is over ten meters high. The Buddhas, the bodhisattvas striving for enlightenment, and the numerous deities protecting the Buddha’s teachings depicted by monk painters are unsurpassed in their in rich vibrancy.