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Portrait of a Scholar
Portrait of a Scholar, 18th century
Ink and color on silk.
11 1/4 x 9 inches (28.6 x 22.9cm)
The Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White Collection, 1967
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The Life of Literati in Korea

Portrait of a Scholar shows a male figure dressed in a wrap coat with a thick collar band and a matching hat. The man portrayed here was most likely a member of the literati, a highly educated group within the Korean upper classes.

This type of portrait was usually commissioned by the descendants of wealthy scholars and officials for use in Confucian ancestor ceremonies. Confucianism, a system of ethical rules designed to inspire and preserve the good management of family and society, is based on the teachings of Confucius (551–479 BCE), a Chinese philosopher of the sixth century BCE.

Confucianism was the official ideology of the Joseon dynasty of Korea. Rulers of this period developed a system of education, ceremony, and civil administration based on its principles. Society was divided into three distinct status groups: the yangban or upper class to which the literati belonged, the middle class, and the lower class. Yangban held the highest government positions, and were the most learned members of society. The influence of Confucianism in the development of Korean art is apparent in the production of ritual objects like this portrait, (a focal point during ceremonies to honor ancestors) and in the treatment of artistic subjects (like the scholars’ utensils in the ch’aekkori screen, which announce the importance of the literati lifestyle).

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Korea, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.

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