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Folding Screens Depicting Ulsan Battle come to Korea

Posted June. 26, 2007 03:16,   


A folding screen depicting battles for the Ulsan fortress renowned for its detailed illustrations of battles from the Imjin War (the Japanese invasion of Korea from 1592 to 1598) will soon come to Korea. The screen, made in Japan in the 17th-18th centuries, consists of three parts in 18 folds. The existence of two parts has recently been confirmed.

The screen holds special importance not only because it depicts combat waged over 13 days (December 23, 1597 to January 4, 1598) for the Ulsan fortress, which was the biggest battle of the Imjin War, but also because the Japanese were illustrating a battle in which they were defeated.

Jeon Yoon-su, president of the Bukchon Art Museum in Gahoi-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul said on June 25, “We confirmed the existence of the screen in an exhibition held by a Japanese art collector, purchased all three parts, and plan to bring them here in August or September.”

Of the three parts, the first part has been on display in 1999 at Jinju National Museum on loan from Japan. However, even experts had no idea about whether the remaining two parts existed. Jeon explained, “The fact that Japan lost the battle for the Ulsan fortress must have led Japanese collectors and painters to be reluctant to making it public.”

The screen was created by Nabesima Naosige family members around the 17th or 18th Century based on documents and accounts from soldiers who participated in the war. One part of the screen is 173 centimeters high and 375 centimeters wide. Though it was drawn by Japanese, it is regarded as a significant piece of artwork since it is the biggest and most detailed description of the battles in the Imjin War ever created.

The Ulsan fortress was a Japanese-style citadel constructed by 16,000 Japanese soldiers led by Kato Kiyomasa, a Japanese commander who came to Ulsan when he failed to expand northward. At the time, some 50,000 troops of the allied armies of the Joseon and Ming dynasties seized the fortress and completely isolated the Japanese soldiers, forcing them to live on their horses. Even though the allied armies had to withdraw from the fortress when some 60,000 additional Japanese soldiers came to rescue, Kiyomasa fled and Japan lost the battles, which definitely contributed to Joseon’s victory.

One of the two parts of the screen now on display illustrates scenes where thousands of Joseon and Ming soldiers riding horses are advancing to the fortress in an orderly manner, and Japanese soldiers are defending in surrounding areas. The other part depicts in a detailed and realistic way the scenes where Japanese armed with rifles and long swords are forcing Joseon and Ming soldiers to retreat. Unlike allied armies, the Japanese army is holding flags with their family emblems.

The first part of the screen made public in 1999 illustrates allied armies closing in on the fortress in several layers. It depicts the scene so minutely that one can see a Japanese soldier eating a horse inside the fortress.