Exceptional Korean Blanket Chest with Inlaid Taoist Motifs

Ca. 1870, Yi Dynasty; chestnut wood, iron fittings, oil finish
Size: L. 35.5″ W. 16.5″ H. 36″

This chest is exceptional in that on its top front half-panel it shows the Taoist “t’aeguk” motif, based on the interlocking yin-yang symbol that evolved into the contemporary design on the Korean flag. This Taoist motif symbolizes heaven and earth, meaning long life.

This chest is made of solid chestnut wood with iron fittings. The ironwork on the chest is finely wrought and unusually thick.  Besides the important traditional “t’aeguk” motif incised into the top part of the half-door, the archaistic designs of the Buddhist swastika, the “ruyi”, and adaptation of the Chinese long-life character “shou” are prominently displayed on the lock-plate, hinges, and corner braces of the half-panels of the chest.  These motifs together mean perfection, harmony, and happiness.  The body of the chest is attached to a stand with curvilinear bottom edge.  The inside of the chest shows it was lined with fine paper but now, with aging, most of it is torn off.  The chest sits on a solid stand with arched bottom edges.

This chest was found after the Japanese Occupation on Kanghwa Island, a political prison colony for the Kingdom of Korea for two thousand years.  It was recovered by an American missionary doctor who was invited to go there to treat the sick and dying.  He was allowed to take any furniture the exiled took there as the ruling scholar/official class did not care for furniture.  For his humanitarian work, he was honored with Korean citizenship. The chest was later passed on to a Korean Professor of Korean History and Antiquity from whom we acquired this exceptional relic.  It is in excellent condition and is certified rare.