Posted : 2011-05-03 16:06
Updated : 2011-05-03 16:06

European decorative art hits Seoul

Marquise de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, by Francois Boucher, France, 1758. / Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum

By Chung Ah-young

The National Museum of Korea is holding a special exhibition titled “Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum” through Aug. 28.

The exhibition, which opened Tuesday, allows visitors to appreciate the collection of luxurious treasures enjoyed by the ruling class of Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, which is renowned for holding world-class decorative Baroque and Rococo artworks.

The 17th- and 18th-century items of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection range from painting, sculpture, ceramics, glass, metals, furniture and textiles, as well as garments and accessories to prints and drawings.

A total of 101 articles which were carefully selected for the exhibition were mostly made by top-class artisans of the time at the request of powerful and wealthy nobles.

The artworks were produced throughout the entire European continent from Sweden in the north to Spain in the south and from Portugal in the west to Russia in the east as European countries in this period were expanding their trade on a global scale and building colonies overseas.

Expensive and rare materials imported from around the world were frequently used in the artworks.

The exhibition also features a wide range of themes epitomizing the core of European court life. It begins with a section on power and patronage in Europe between 1600 and 1800 and the following sections focus on four different aspects of court life — the importance of war, the role of religion, the peaceful arts of the domestic interior, and the magnificence of personal adornment.

The first section “Princely Patronage” introduces influential figures from princely courts who were great patrons of the arts in Europe during this period.

Some objects in this section were commissioned by monarchs and their official mistresses and portray these royal figures. They played an influential role to set up aesthetic standards and spread design ideas by commissioning and exchanging luxurious gifts.

The second part “Power and Glory” shows how military powers and wars affected decorative objects for royal use through armor, weapons, tapestries and paintings.

The third section “Religious Splendor” displays the works made for worship at the request of secular or ecclesiastical patrons for the public or private devotional use.

This section exhibits the works associated not only with Catholicism that dominated everyday life and affected court manners but also with religions such as Protestantism and Judaism to show how the different religious beliefs and historical circumstances were reflected in decorative arts.

The fourth section “Display in the Interior” presents furniture, textiles and ceramics designed for the use in palaces and noble residences, either for decorative or social purposes.

Many of the items in this section were manufactured as a means of ornamentation and social interaction or to satisfy personal pleasure.

The fifth section “Fashion and Personal Adornment” explores fashionable styles of aristocratic men and women who adorned themselves from head to toe.

As the items were the most explicit expressions representing their social status and cultural tastes they show court manners, which required strict fashion codes in accordance with the occasion.

The exhibits were closely related to the lives of monarchs and aristocrats, who led European history at that time, and provided flamboyant decorations for their attire, food, and dwellings and represented the wearers’ identity as a powerful form of image-making.

Given few opportunities to appreciate the decorative pieces of the Baroque and Rococo period in depth in the past, this exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to understand this era’s art.

To help understand the exhibition, the museum has published a 220-page catalogue including images of the items on display. Explanations are available from volunteers and docents, along with an audio guide during the exhibition period.

In addition, educational programs and worksheets developed by the museum’s education department for young children and teenagers will help them understand the experience through diverse activities related to the items in the exhibition. The museum will also offer an academic program for adults, including a lecture series which features conversations with Korean researchers and specialists in the field.

For more information, call (02) 2077- 9275 or visit
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