National Museum of Korea

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National Museum of Korea
Korean name
Hangul 국립중앙박물관
Revised Romanization Gungnip Jung-ang Bangmulgwan
McCune–Reischauer Kungnip Chung'ang Pangmulgwan
National Museum of Korea.jpg
National Museum of Korea is located in South Korea
National Museum of Korea
Location within South Korea
Established 1945(Reopening of the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan, 2005)
Location 137 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Coordinates 37°31′24″N 126°58′47″E / 37.52334°N 126.9797°E / 37.52334; 126.9797
Type History and Art
Collection size over 310,000 pieces[1]
295,551 square metres (3.18 million square feet)
Visitors 3.1 million (2013)[2]
Ranking 14th globally[2]

The National Museum of Korea is the flagship museum of Korean history and art in South Korea and is the cultural organization that represents Korea. Since its establishment in 1945,[3] the museum has been committed to various studies and research activities in the fields of archaeology, history, and art, continuously developing a variety of exhibitions and education programs.

In 2012, it was reported that since its relocation to Yongsan District in 2005, the Museum has attracted an attendance of 20 million visitors.[4] A poll of nearly 2,000 foreign visitors, conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in November 2011, stated that visiting the Museum is one of their favorite activities in Seoul.[5]


Exterior of Museum

Emperor Sunjong established Korea's first museum, the Imperial Household Museum, in 1909. The collections of the Imperial Household Museum at Changgyeonggung and the Japanese Government General Museum administered during Japanese rule of Korea became the nucleus of the National Museum's collection, which was established when South Korea gained independence in 1945.

During the Korean War, the 20,000 of the museum's pieces were safely moved to Busan to avoid destruction. When the museum returned to Seoul after the war, it was housed at both Gyeongbokgung and Deoksugung Palace. In 1972, the museum moved again to a new building on the grounds of the Gyeonbokgung Palace. The museum was moved again in 1986 to the Jungangcheong, the former Japanese General Government Building, where it was housed (with some controversy and criticism) until the building's demolition in 1995. In December 1996, the museum was opened to the public in temporary accommodation in the renovated Social Education Hall, before officially reopening in its grand new building in Yongsan Family Park on October 28, 2005.

In October 2005, the museum opened in a new building in Yongsan Family Park in Seoul, South Korea. The museum is situated on what used to be a golf course that was part of the Yongsan Garrison, the central command of the United States Forces stationed in Korea. The US Army returned a part of the land in 1992 to the Korean government, which went on to become the Yongsan Family Park. While the plans for the museum inside the park began in 1993, its opening was delayed repeatedly by a helipad, which was eventually relocated in 2005 by agreement. The museum contains over 310,000 pieces[1] in its collection with about 15,000 pieces on display at one time. It displays relics and artifacts throughout six permanent exhibition galleries such as Prehistory and Ancient History Gallery, Medieval and Early Modern History Gallery, Donation Gallery, Calligraphy and Painting Gallery, Asian Art Gallery, and Sculpture and Crafts Gallery. It is the sixth largest museum in the world in terms of floor space, now covering a total of 295,551 square metres (3,180,000 sq ft).[6] In order to protect the artifacts inside the museum, the main building was built to withstand a magnitude 6.0 Richter Scale earthquake. The display cases are equipped with shock-absorbent platforms. There is also an imported natural lighting system which utilizes sunlight instead of artificial lights and a specially designed air-conditioning system. The museum is also made from fire-resistant materials. The museum also has special exhibition halls, education facilities, a children's museum, huge outdoor exhibition areas, restaurants, cafes, and shops.


Exhibition Hall

The museum is divided into three floors. Symbolically, the left of the museum is supposed to represent the past, while the right side of the museum represents the future. The ground floor contains parks; gardens of indigenous plants; waterfalls and pools; and a collection of pagodas, stupas, lanterns, and steles (including National Treasure of Korea No. 2, the Great Bell of Bosingak, the exemplar of Korean bells of the Joseon period).

First floor[edit]

On the first floor is the Prehistory and Ancient History Gallery, which contains approximately 4,500 artifacts from the Paleolithic to the Unified Silla era excavated from sites across Korea. The nine exhibition rooms in the gallery are the Palaeolithic Room, the Neolithic Room, the Bronze Age & Gojoseon Room, the Proto Three Kingdoms Room, the Goguryeo Room, the Baekje Room, the Gaya Room, and the Silla Room. Ranging from chipped stone handaxes to luxurious ancient royal ornaments, the relics displayed here show a long journey taken by the early settlers on the Peninsula towards developing their own unique culture.

Artifacts from important prehistoric sites and settlements such the Bangudae Petroglyphs and Songgung-ni are found in the Neolithic and Bronze Age Rooms.

Also on the first floor is the Medieval and Early Modern History Gallery, which showcases the cultural and historical heritage throughout the Unified Silla, Balhae, Goryeo, and Joseon periods. The eight rooms of the gallery include the Unified Silla Room, Balhae Room, Goryeo Room, and the Joseon Room.

Second floor[edit]

The second floor contains the Donation Gallery and the Calligraphy and Painting Gallery, which contains 890 pieces of art that showcase the traditional and religious arts of Korea in line and color. The Calligraphy and Painting Gallery is divided into four rooms: the Painting Room, the Calligraphy Room, the Buddhist Paintings Room, and the Sarangbang(Scholar's Studio).

The Donation Gallery holds 800 pieces of art donated from the private collections of collectors. The gallery is divided into eleven rooms: the Lee Hong-kun Collection Room, the Kim Chong-hak Collection Room, the Yu Kang-yul Collection Room, the Park Young-sook Collection Room, the Choi Young-do Collection Room, the Park Byong-rae Collection Room, the Yoo Chang-jong Collection Room, the Kaneko Kazushige Collection Room, the Hachiuma Tadasu Collection Room, the Iuchi Isao Collection Room, and the Other Collection Room.

Third floor[edit]

The third floor contains the Sculpture and Crafts Gallery, with 630 pieces that represent Korean Buddhist sculpture and craftwork. Highlights of the gallery include Goryeo Celadon wares and National Treasure of Korea No. 83, Bangasayusang (or Pensive Bodhisattva). The five rooms of the gallery are the Metal Arts Room, the Celadon Room, the Buncheong Ware Room, the White Porcelain Room, and the Buddhist Sculpture Room.

Also on the third floor is the Asian Arts Gallery, which contains 970 pieces that explore the similarities and divergences of Asian art and the confluence of Asian and Western art via the Silk Road. The five rooms are the Indian & Southeast Asian Art Room, the Central Asian Art Room, the Chinese Art Room, the Sinan Undersea Relics Room, and the Japanese Art Room.


Gold Crown, National Treasure of Korea No. 191[edit]

Silla Golden Crown

This fifth-century Silla gold crown was excavated from the North tomb of Hwangnamdaechong in Gyeongju. In the North tomb, more ornaments including a silver belt ornament with an inscription of 'Buindae(the meaning of Madame's belt)' were found than in the South tomb. In this sense, this North tomb can be presumed to have belonged to a woman. A gold crown indicates the owner's political and social class.

Pensive Bodhisattva, National Treasure of Korea No. 83[edit]

Pensive Bodhisattva

This statue, from the early seventh-century, is described as putting one leg over the other, lost in thought with fingers on its cheeks. Statues in such a pose were derived from Budda's posture of contemplating on the life of human beings. This statue is depicted with a flat crown called a 'Three Mountain Crown' or 'Lotus Crown.' Its torso is naked, but wearing a simple necklace. This statue has remarkable similarities with the wooden pensive bodhisattva at the Koryuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, which is believed to have been founded by a Silla monk. In that sense, this statue can be presumed to have been created in Silla. However, since it has a well-balanced shape and exhibits elegant and refined craftsmanship, it is also considered as one from Baekje period.

Incense Burner, Celadon with Openwork, National Treasure of Korea No. 95[edit]

Celadon Openwork Incense Burner

This twelfth-century incense burner represents some of the best quality Goryeo celadon. It is composed of a cover (with a central hole for releasing incense), a burner, and a support. Above the hole for incense is a curved knob with seven treasure design incised to help spread the released incense.

Ten-Story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple, National Treasure of Korea No. 86[edit]

Ten-Story Pagoda

The "Gyeongcheonsa Ten-Story Pagoda" (경천사 십층석탑, 敬天寺十層石塔) was originally erected at the monastery Gyeongcheonsa in the fourth year (1348) of King Chungmok of Goryeo. In 1907, it was illegally smuggled to Japan by a Japanese court official, but was returned in 1918 at the behest of British and American journalists, E. Bethell and H. Hulbert, In 1960, it was restored in Gyoengbokgung Palace, but proved difficult to be conserve because of acid rain and weathering. So it was dismantled again in 1995, to be housed inside the National Museum of Korea's 'Path to History' when the museum reopened in 2005.

Album of Genre Painting by Danwon, Treasure of Korea No. 527[edit]

"Dancing Boy" by Danwon.

The eighteenth-century painter Kim Hong-do, also known as Danwon, is known for his humorous and candid paintings of the lives of common people. This album consists of twenty-five paintings, with each focuses on the figures, without any background features. Kim's paintings appear sketchy, yet show expressive brush strokes and balanced compositions. It is presumed that Kim started to do this type of painting in his late thirties, with the album being done when he was about forty years old. [7]

The Oegyujanggak Uigwe[edit]

Gyujanggak was a royal library established on the grounds of Changdeokgung Palace in the capital by order of King Jeongjo, the 22nd ruler of the Joseon, in 1776. Over time, the library was also developed into a state-sponsored research institution. In 1782, a royal library annex called Oegyujanggak was also established on Gangwha Island to preserve important documents related to the royal family more systematically and securely than could be done in the capital. Oegyujanggak housed copies of writings, calligraphy, and drawings by former kings as well as the royal genealogies, uigwe, and other such items. As such it could be called a repository of royal family culture. The uigwe is a collection of records on the preparations for and conduct of state-sponsored events and ceremonies involving key members of the Joseon royal family. The text explains every process in detail and is supported by illustrations elaborately drawn by hand. These volumes served as references for later generations when the time came to organize similar ceremonies or events, thereby minimizing trial and error. Uigwe began to be produced in the 15th century, during early Joseon, and the practice continued until the end of the kingdom in the early 20th century. They preserve core elements of the Confucian cultural world, which revered ritual and propriety. These works also reveal the governing philosophy and systems by which the state was run during Joseon. Their historical and cultural value has been recognized globally, as the “Royal Protocols of Joseon Dynasty”*1 were inscribed into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007. [8] The Museum houses 297 volumes of Uigwe, or "Royal Protocols" of the Joseon Dynasty, that were looted in 1866 during the French campaign against Korea and were kept at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. They were repatriated from April to June 2011, in four separate installments.[9] A special exhibition, The Return of the Oegyujanggak Uigwe from France: Records of the State Rites of the Joseon Dynasty, was held from 19 July to 18 September 2011.[10] In June 2011, ahead of the exhibition, the Museum showcased five of the copies to the media, along with a couple of silk covers of other volumes.[11]

Current exhibitions[edit]

Beyond Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay[edit]

DATES : 03-05-2014 - 31-8-2014

VENUE : National Museum of Korea Special Exhibition Hall

Admission Time : Tue/Thu/Fri 09:00~18:00, Wed/Sat 09:00~21:00, Sun/Holiday 09:00~19:00

Admission Fee(won): Adult 12,000, Middle and High School Student 10,000, Elementary School Student 8,000, Over 65 years 6,000

Inquiry : 82-2-325-1077

This exhibition examines the dramatic change in European art and life during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The exhibition is organized with the scientific collaboration and the exceptional loans of the Musée d’Orsay. Later works from artists such as Claude Monet and Henri Rousseau convey the domineering personalities and acute minds of these legendary artists. The exhibition features over 170 works of various media—including photography, sculpture, drawing, and crafts—all of which were specially selected from the renowned collection of the Musée d’Orsay. Distinctive and colorful masterworks are displayed, ranging from the late impressionism, the Neo-Impressionist paintings that applied scientific optical theory, Paul Gaugauin and Pont-Aven School artists who left the modernized city for the primitive life, the unique and distinctive worlds of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, and the Symbolist works representing the end-of-century sentiments. The collection, bringing together the workings of the nature,the primitive life and the world of dreams and the subconscious by bold colors and flat picture planes that have reached beyond the Impressionism, demonstrates the evolving of the modern art.

Ancient Civilization in Vietnam - the Early Morning around Red River[edit]

DATES : 29-04-2014 – 29-06-2014

Venue : Special Exhibition Gallery

Admission Time : Tue/Thu/Fri 09:00~18:00, Wed/Sat 09:00~21:00, Sun/Holiday 09:00~19:00

Exhibition interpretation(Korean) : Weekday 10:30, 11:30, 14:30, 15:30 Weekend 11:30, 14:30

Admission Fee : Free

Inquiry : 02) 2077-9000

The National Museum of Korea now proudly presents the fruits of that joint research in <Ancient Civilization in Vietnam, the Early Morning around Red River>. Like Korea, Vietnam has been able to develop and preserve its own unique culture despite sharing a border and a long history of mutual influence with China. In recognition of this affiliation, since 2009, the National Museum of Korea and the Vietnam National Museum of History have teamed up to conduct a number of joint scholarly research projects on Vietnamese prehistoric culture. This exhibition celebrates the ancient cultural traditions of Vietnam, which have flowed down through history from one era to the next, like the rust-colored currents of the Red River. Our hope is that these marvelous artifacts will induce in the audience a greater esteem for Vietnamese traditional culture, as wall as a newfound appreciation for some of the remarkable similarities between the cultures of our two countries.

New Acquisitions of Asian Art[edit]

Location : Thematic Exhibition Gallery in the Medieval and Early Modern History Section, 1F

Date : 2014-03-25~2014-06-22

This exhibition presents works of art from various parts of Asia that have been purchased by the museum over the years to improve the Asian Galleries of the museum. The National Museum of Korea has made a sustained effort to acquire cultural heritages related to Asia through purchases and donations, and has been doing its utmost to share its understanding of Asian culture with the public by unveiling its collections in permanent exhibitions in the Asian Galleries and through various special exhibitions. This new exhibition will display sixty-six artifacts that have not yet been presented to the public. We hope that this exhibition will further visitors’ understanding of the diversity of Asian art and enhance understanding of the distinct cultures of each region in Asia.

Encounter with Amitāyus in Sukhāvatī, Buddhist Hanging Scroll at Heungguksa Temple[edit]

Location : buddhist Paintings Gallery in the Permanent Exhibition Hall, 2F

Date : 2014-05-02~2014-10-26

The National Museum of Korea presents the thematic exhibition ‘Encounter with Amitāyus in Sukhāvatī, Buddhist Hanging Scroll at Hengguksa Temple’ which displays the large hanging scroll once used for Buddhist outdoor rituals. This display is part of the regular series of the Buddhist painting exhibition held in the National Museum of Korea, and the Buddhist hanging scroll from Heungguksa Temple in Goyang city will be presented to the public for this occasion. We hope the exhibition could offer an opportunity to reveal traditional heritage and to appreciate a new direction in the history of Modern Korean Buddhist art.


  1. ^ a b "Director's Message | About the Museum | 국립중앙박물관". Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  2. ^ a b Top 100 Art Museum Attendance, The Art Newspaper, 2014. Retrieved on 13 July 2014.
  3. ^ "Seoul's best museums" CNN Go. 27 October 2011. Retrieved 2011-11-03
  4. ^ "National Museum of Korea Welcomes 20-Millionth Visitor since Its Relocation to Yongsan". 
  5. ^ "Mt. Nam Tops List of Foreign Tourists' Favorites". Chosun Ilbo. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  6. ^ "Site Map | 국립중앙박물관". Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  7. ^ [100 Highlights of National Museum of Korea, book]
  8. ^ "Site Map | 국립중앙박물관". Retrieved 2014-03-28. 
  9. ^ Lee, Claire "Ancient Korean royal books welcomed back home" Korea Herald. 6 December 2011. Retrieved 2012-04-23
  10. ^ "The Return of the Oegyujanggak Uigwe from France: Records of the State Rites of the Joseon Dynasty". Special Exhibitions. National Museum of Korea. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  11. ^ Lee, Claire (4 July 2011). "Museum shows royal books returned from France". Korea Herald. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 

External links[edit]