12 Masterpieces of Korean Arts
Exquisite Portfolio
Presentation Copy
from the Cheong Wa Dae – the Blue House
With the Seal of the President
of Southern Korea
circa 1958

Title: 韓國文化財精髓十二選
[12 Selections from the Masterpieces of Korean Arts]

[Seoul], circa 1958. A special copy, bearing the South Korean Presidential Seal, quite conceivably a unique one-off presentation copy from the Korean Government, of the photogravure portfolio, showcasing a select few of the exquisite Korean art works, which were jointly selected by a Korean-American committee and displayed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. exhibition “Masterpieces of Korean Arts” held from 15 December 1957 to 12 January 1958. Folio. Complete, with 12 full colour photogravures, each bordered with loosely placed captioned leaf, and contained in its own folding cardstock covers bearing the portfolio title to front and a detailed historical and physical description to interior. Folders open from left to right, suggesting that this work was printed in Korea. Text is in both Korean and English. Publisher’s original cloth teal and gold patterned portfolio covers, with two intact bone clasps for secure closure, and gilt presidential seal to front. Photogravure leafs measure approximately 42,5 x 34 cm. Portfolio measures approximately 43 x 34,5 x 3,5 cm Mild age-toning and wear to boards with one cosmetic tear to cloth to interior of one flap, otherwise in very good and original condition, a most unusual variant of this beautiful work, and most likely a Presentation copy from the South Korean Government.

The present item is quite rare in any state, but especially this one as it shows a gilt phoenix and flower (Rose of Sharon) emblem found on the presidential seal of South Korea. It is most likely a Presentation Copy from the Korean Government to America, as a memorial to their collaboration of hosting a superb exhibition of historic Korean Art. OCLC shows a few ‘standard’ editions in libraries.

The status and authority of the President of South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, is represented by a symbolic phoenix emblem. The virtues represented by the mythological bird are parallel to the values a king had to pursue in governing the people, and the design of phoenix was attached on the ceiling of the throne hall of Gyeongbokgung palace, which was the main palace during much of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910). The design of the phoenix is still used today as the emblem that represents the office of the President of Korea.

The exhibition “Masterpieces of Korean Art” was held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., from 15 December 1957 to 12 January 1958. A joint committee of Koreans and Americans selected 187 objects, with the aim of presenting a cross section of Korean art from 200 B.C. to about 1900.

Included were 8 jeweled crowns, 15 other objects of gold, 10 of stoneware and tile, 23 gilt bronzes, 34 paintings, and 102 ceramics, including examples of Korean celadon. This was the first large exhibition of Korean art to be seen outside the Far East. It was held under the auspices of the government of the Republic of Korea, and organized with the cooperation of the Department of State, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American-Korean Foundation.

For the first time at the National Gallery of Art, a modern innovative installation was prepared by professional designers. Benjamin W. Lawless and Robert B. Widder of the Smithsonian Institution Exhibition Office designed special display islands using black gravel and white marble chips, industrial cork, see-through vitrines, oriental plants, and dramatic lighting. Three jeweled crowns of the Silla dynasty, unique to Korea, were placed prominently in Gallery G-8 at the end of the Central Gallery, their gold and jade pendants fluttering with tiny concealed fans. Ralph T. Coe and Elise V.H. Ferber, museum curators, were responsible for the exhibition at the Gallery.

The exhibit attracted 43,393 attendees, and continued to other Venues – The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Seattle Art Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A catalog was produced in Boston, by publishers T.O. Metcalf Co., 1957, titled for the exhibition, “Masterpieces of Korean Art”.

The Republic of Korea phoenix emblem: Symbol of status and authority of the President

The phoenix is known to have various features of ten different animals. Its appearance from the front is like a wild goose; the appearance from behind a qilin; the china swallow; the beak a rooster; the neck a snake; the tail a fish; the forehead a crane; the cheek a mandarin duck; the pattern on the body a dragon and the back a turtle. Its feathers have five different colors, including red, blue, yellow, white and black.

The features of the ten animals are closely connected to the ten virtues a king is required to have.

A wild goose refers to a man of great character who regards faith between a king and subjects, between friends and between a husband and wife as precious as life.

A qilin, which was known to have appeared at the birth of Confucius, symbolizes a sage complete with wisdom and talent.

As a symbol of a celestial nymph and a woman of noble birth, a swallow represents the talent to make rain, wealth and longevity.

As the first animal to sense when the darkness of night lifts to give way to dawn, the rooster represents magical power to chase away evil spirits and attract good spirits.

The snake symbolizes a rich harvest and fertility.

The fish is regarded as a symbol of military power because it sleeps with its eyes open, has scales that resemble a general’s armor and travels in tight schools like soldiers in formation.

The crane, believed to be among the Earth’s oldest known bird species, symbolizes nobility, virtue and longevity.

The mandarin duck, a traditional symbol of a happy marriage, highlights the importance of family harmony as the foundation for the progress of society and state.

The dragon is a symbol for the most exceptional of people, depicted with five toes when representing the king, with four when representing feudal lords and with three when representing high state councillors.

The turtle, associated with the element water, embodies protection against fire as well as longevity and the gift of foresight.

These attributes represented in the physical appearance of the phoenix correspond closely to the qualities that were expected of the king. It can be said that these same virtues are similarly called for in the President today.

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