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Rare mother-of-pearl box presumed from Goryeo returns from Japan

By Yonhap

Published : Sept. 6, 2023 - 09:43

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A mother-of-pearl box with a chrysanthemum vine pattern, is believed to date back to the 13th century Goryeo Dynasty. (Yonhap) A mother-of-pearl box with a chrysanthemum vine pattern, is believed to date back to the 13th century Goryeo Dynasty. (Yonhap)

A rare mother-of-pearl box showcasing the exquisite craftsmanship of the Goryeo era has been returned to South Korea from Japan.

The Cultural Heritage Administration and the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation unveiled to media Wednesday the mother-of-pearl box with a chrysanthemum vine pattern, believed to date back to the 13th century Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).

Its existence came to light last year when an art dealer contacted the foundation after acquiring it from a Japanese collector three years ago. Before the transaction, the box had been in the collector's warehouse in Japan for more than a century, according to the heritage authorities.

The foundation acquired it using funds from a lottery, following extensive surveys and negotiations that lasted for a year.

Mother-of-pearl craftsmanship involves creating intricate patterns by affixing thin slices of abalone, clams, or conch shells to surfaces, and then coating it with lacquer.

Such craftwork from the Goryeo era, in particular, is considered a pinnacle of Goryeo artistry, alongside celadon ceramics and Buddhist paintings. However, only about 20 such artifacts are known to exist worldwide.

Measuring 33 centimeters in width, 18.5 cm in length and 19.4 cm in height, the artifact that returned from Japan this time is adorned with representative Goryeo mother-of-pearl patterns, including chrysanthemum vine motifs and peony vine designs.

Its lid and body feature approximately 770 mother-of-pearl pieces with the chrysanthemum vine pattern, while around 30 peony vine patterns decorate the upper edge of the lid.

Roughly 45,000 pieces of mother-of-pearl were used to craft the box.

Despite the passage of about 800 years, the artifact remains in good condition, according to the foundation.

"The patterns and state of preservation (of this artifact) are so outstanding that it can epitomize Goryeo mother-of-pearl craftsmanship, even though it had been unknown to the academic community so far," the foundation said in a release.

CHA officials expect the restored item to play a crucial role in future research and exhibitions aimed at restoring the traditional Korean mother-of-pearl craftsmanship. (Yonhap)