Morando Byeongpung (folding screen with peonies and rocks) © National Palace Museum of Korea

Meaning of Peonies at Royal Palace
A special exhibition titled < Peonies, the Flowers of Peace and Prosperity > is taking place at the National Palace Museum of Korea located in the Gyeongbokgung complex.
Peonies have long been loved throughout Korean history. The elegant forms of voluminous, beautiful peonies can be easily spotted in trees planted across the royal court, and as a decorative element in daily and ritual items including kitchenware, furniture, and clothing. Peonies, as a symbol of wealth, abundance, and comfort, were often drawn with sacred creatures such as dragon, phoenix, and turtle to form decorative design patterns. The ongoing < Peonies, the Flowers of Peace and Prosperity > exhibition at the National Palace Museum of Korea shows us how the royal family enjoyed peonies in the Joseon Dynasty. It also gives us a glimpse into Joseon’s royal culture.
< Peonies, the Flowers of Peace and Prosperity > is divided into three segments. The first segment is about the ancient tradition of growing peonies as a horticultural product and enjoying the flower as an inspiration for drawing. The second and third segments highlight historical artifacts that have peony patterns embodying people’s wishes to be rich and affluent, and stable and prosperous, respectively.
신명연이 그린 <산수화훼도> 중 모란. 1864년, 비단에 채색, 33.1x20cm, 국립중앙박물관 소장 © 국립중앙박물관

Peonies from < Sansuhwahwedo (Painting of Mountain, Water and Flowers) > by Shin Myeong-yeon. 1864. Colored on silk. 33.1x20cm, in possession of the National Museum of Korea © National Museum of Korea

When Classical Meets Modern
The peonies exhibition is unique in that the display of artifacts that had actually been used in the palace were blended with the 21st-century technology for the production of the show. Media art has been used across the exhibition room to create a dramatic space. By installing mirrors on both walls of the aisle leading to the exhibition room, the space seems expanded. On the floor, media art generates a spectacular peony walk.
“In line with the ‘peony’ theme, we thought there had to be a space studded with colorful peonies. If at all, we wanted to create a flower walk at the entrance of the exhibition to welcome visitors.” Kim Jae-eun, a curator at the National Palace Museum of Korea, explained. The mesmerizing flower walk is a place of hearty welcome and a great photo zone. Visitors let out an exclamation and pause to take photos as they walk in. It is a chance for the exhibition to be enjoyed by not just Korean culture enthusiasts but also children.
비밀 정원처럼 꾸며진 1부 전시장 © 김혜원

The first segment of the exhibition, built like a secret garden © Kim Hye-won

Peonies Gratifying Five Senses
The first gallery, appearing after the flower path, presents a garden of peonies. It’s a place that stimulates all five senses. Dimmed lights, landscape props across the space, and bird calls transform the exhibition room into a secret garden hidden in a forest. The gentle fragrance that fills the garden of peonies was concocted from the real peony scent collected around the flower stairs at Changdeokgung Naksunjae. The peony paintings placed between the landscape props appear as tall flowers that stick out in the thick bushes. For a complete relaxation and recuperation in the garden, a number of sitting cushions are placed randomly.
2부 전시장 입구 © 국립고궁박물관

Entry to the second section © National Palace Museum of Korea

The second gallery focuses on the image of blooming peonies used as a design motif. Various palace artifacts are on display, including kitchenware, furniture, and clothing. Curator Kim Jae-eun recommends that visitors pay close attention to embroidered wedding ceremonial items, such as the wedding dress for royal women, embroidered cushion cover for Princess Bokon, and wedding fan embroidered with peony design(jinjuseon). “Wedding ceremonial items in themselves embody exquisite, spectacular, and beautiful skills of court embroidery. The more you examine, the more you’ll be amazed at the details.” Across the exhibition space where the ancient wedding dresses are hung, a video footage about the design patterns used in Princess Bokon’s wedding dress(hwarot) is projected. “We’ve installed the projection hoping that all the luck implied in the hwarot design gets transferred to the spectators. Please keep that in mind as you watch the exhibition.”
혼례복과 미디어아트 © 국립고궁박물관

혼례복과 미디어아트 © 국립고궁박물관

Wedding dress and media art © National Palace Museum of Korea

붉은색 비단에 자수를 놓은 복온공주 혼례복 © 김혜원

Wedding attire for Princess Bokon, embroidered red silk © Kim Hye-won

The center of the third section is Morando Byeongpung, the folding screen with peonies and rocks. It is a majestic artifact the viewing of which is only available at the National Palace Museum of Korea. The Morando folding screen was used in both auspicious and funeral rituals. Taller than men, the screen wall creates a sense of grandeur and solemnity.
모란도병풍으로 둘러싸인 3부 전시장 전경 © 국립고궁박물관

View of the third segment of the exhibition, surrounded by the folding screen of peonies © National Palace Museum of Korea

Advances in technology seem to drive men and nature apart, but sometimes they move us in an unexpected way. < Peonies, the Flowers of Peace and Prosperity > has once again proven it. The special exhibition clearly shows how our ancestors lived their lives, praying for happiness and wealth and wishing for peace even after death, through the artifacts used in daily life and special occasions as well as through the symbolic flower garden. The Korean title of the exhibition is ‘Hello, Peonies.’ With the significance of peonies in mind, we also pray for peace and prosperity of our country in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.
복온공주의 혼례 때 사용한 방석. 부귀영화를 상징하는 모란이 곳곳에 수놓아졌다. © 국립고궁박물관

Cushion used during the wedding ceremony for Princess Bokon, with peonies, the symbol of prosperity and honor, embroidered. © National Palace Museum of Korea

Peonies, the Flowers of Peace and Prosperity
Location Special Exhibition Room 2F, National Palace Museum of Korea, 12 Hyoja-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Duration July 7~October 31
Hours 10:00~18:00(Final admission at 17:00)
Inquiry +82-2-3701-7500
September 2021 Editor:Kim Hyewon
Cooperation: National Palace Museum of Korea

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