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Likeness and Legacy in Korean Portraiture

King Yeongjo’s calligraphy bestowed on Lee Sam
Joseon dynasty (1392–1910)
Ink and colors on wood
h. 53.5 x w. 84 cm (overall).

Asian Art Museum, on loan from the Hampyeong Lee Family Collection in Daejeon, Korea.
Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Upon his appointment as one of the second-rank Bunmu meritorious officials in 1728, Lee Sam (Yi Sam, 1677–1735) was bestowed various rewards by King Yeongjo (reigned 1724–1776), including his portrait. The king’s recognition and rewards continued throughout Lee Sam’s career. This plaque is a copy of the calligraphy King Yeongjo wrote when appointing Lee as the mayor of Hanseong (part of today’s Seoul) in 1731.

This kind of copied royal calligraphy was often displayed in a man’s living quarters or outside of a scholar’s study. Except for royal palaces and Buddhist temples, Joseon-dynasty buildings and components like plaques were not decorated with colors. Here the borders of the plaque, although it was in an official’s house, are decorated with colors because it contains the king’s calligraphy.