Special Exhibition Peonies: Flowers of Peace and Prosperity to Open at the National Palace Museum of Korea

Special Exhibition AD image © Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea

The National Palace Museum of Korea (Director Kim, Dong-Young) of the Cultural Heritage Administration holds a special exhibition under the title Peonies: Flowers of Peace and Prosperity, from 7 July to 31 October. The theme of the exhibition is peonies, embedded in the culture of the Joseon royal court. One of the highlights of this exhibition is a hwarot, a type of bridal gown, which had been housed in Changdeokgung Palace and will be presented to the public for the very first time. Also, many folding screens of peonies will greet the visitors. Special efforts have been made to enchant the visitors with what they see, smell, and hear at the exhibition.

Ritual objects and everyday items at the royal palaces, including clothing, vessels, and furniture, were commonly adorned with peony designs. This exhibition sheds light on how the Joseon royal court enjoyed peonies as plants and designs and what these flowers symbolized.

The special exhibition Peonies: Flowers of Peace and Prosperity consists of three sections. Section I ‘Growing and Enjoying Peonies’, Section II ‘Blooming Peonies in Designs,’and Section III ‘Peonies Embodying Wishes for a Peaceful Royal Court and a Prosperous Dynasty’.

Section I, ‘Growing and Enjoying Peonies’ explores the tradition of cultivating, appreciating, and painting peonies. The exhibition hall is decorated as a garden with visual effects and flower decorations. Visitors will enjoy representative artworks from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries such as the works of Heo Ryeon (1808–1892) and Nam Gye-u (1811–1890), as they walk through the garden, welcomed by a gentle breeze carrying a subtle floral fragrance developed from the fresh peonies that bloom in Changdeokgung Palace and entertained by the sounds of chirping birds and falling raindrops.

Section II, ‘Blooming Peonies in Designs’ presents a variety of objects bearing peony designs that decorated the royal court and explores the meaning carried by each piece. These designs not only served a simple decorative function, but also carried symbolic implications. The Joseon royal court enjoyed using peonies, which symbolize wealth and honor, as decorative designs and hoped for prosperity and abundance for the Joseon royal family. The peony designs were used in various objects including mother-of-pearl inlayed furniture, box decorated with painted ox-horn plate, white porcelain jar in underglaze cobalt-blue, and other embroidered objects.

Section III, ‘Peonies Embodying Wishes for a Peaceful Royal Court and a Prosperous Dynasty’ highlights peonies as they were used in funeral ceremonies and rituals to honor the ancestors in the royal court. The exhibition introduces how the peony design was used in the different stages of royal funeral rites, in the royal protocols, chair for laying a spirit tablet, palanquin for transporting a spirit tablet, incense burner, and the folding screen with peonies. The highlight of Section III, no doubt, is the folding screen with peonies, which was used throughout the entire stage of a funeral rite, baring wishes for peace and prosperity for the royal court. The exhibition space is surrounded by folding screens with peonies, which are placed much closer to the glass walls, so that the visitors can see the details up close. Towards the end of Section III, a space depicting a shrine has been set up, where the ancestral rituals honoring the deceased kings with royal portraits were held. The folding screens with peony designs, incense burners, royal chairs for laying a spirit tablet, and royal protocols are arranged together to help visitors better understand the special relationship between the peonies and the ancestral rites of the royal court.

More information is available at https://english.cha.go.kr/cop/bbs/selectBoardArticle.do?nttId=79695&bbsId=BBSMSTR_1200&pageIndex=1&pageUnit=10&searchCnd=&searchWrd=&ctgryLrcls=&ctgryMdcls=&ctgrySmcls=&ntcStartDt=&ntcEndDt=&searchUseYn=&mn=EN_01_01