The Korean collection of the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts, 1988.

The Korean collection of the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts,

Mr. President, Gentlemen, dear Colleagues.

Please allow me to express my grateful thanks for your kind invitation to take part in the 5th International Conference on Korean Studies.

Today I should like to speak about the Korean collection of the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts at Budapest in Hungary.

To understand the place of the Korean collection among other collections of the museum, some general information on the Ferenc Hopp Museum will be useful.

Deeper interest for Oriental arts began in Hungary at the end of the 19th century. After the discovery of Chinese porcelains and the following fashion of Chinoiserie in the 18th century in Europe, this was the period when Japanese woodblock-prints were discovered by the impressionist painters in Paris.

At that time, that is in the 1880-ies and 90-ies, a number of young Hungarian painters studied and worked in Paris, so they also got acquainted with Oriental works of art. The ancient Hungarians came from the East into the Carpathian basin, to the territory of Hungary, at the end of the ninth century. Because of this fact, interest in Oriental languages has always been strong in Hungary, but it gathered a special momentum in the late 19th century.

Unfortunately, this was not the case in the field of Oriental arts which became a neglected subject relatively, due to the circumstance that the building of a valuable collection requests concentrated effort and learning, not to speak of the high costs.

The beginning of collecting Oriental works of are in Hungary is closely linked to the activity of Ferenc Hopp.

Ferenc Hopp was born in 1833. At the age of 13 he became an apprentice in the shop of the Calderoni optical firm at Budapest. Later he studied in Vienna, Berlin, Berlin and New York. It was in New York that he witnessed the arrival of the first Japanese delegation with great excitement. After returning to Hungary he became a successful businessman and later the owner of the Calderoni optical firm. He liked geography and natural sciences. In 1882, when he was nearly 50 years old, he began his first journey around the world which led him to China and Japan. All in all, he made five voyages around the world. On his fourth trip, in 1903, he visited also Korea. On route from Nagasaki to Peking he made a stop at Pusan and travelled through Korea.

On his journeys he began to collect Oriental works of art and from a globe-trotter he became an art collector. He savoured especially Chinese and Japanese lacquerware, semi-precious stone carvings, bronzes. During his journeys but also on the European arts market he collected more than four thousand pieces of Oriental works of art. In 1919, shortly before his death, he left his collection together with his villa the present building of the museum-to the Hungarian state with the purpose of founding a museum of East Asian art.

After the foundation the new museum was soon enriched with the transfer of Oriental collections from other Hungarian museums. Professor Zoltán Felvinczi Takács, the first scholar director of the museum, bought important works of art for the museum on the art markets of Europe. A number of Hungarians and also some foreign friends donated various materials to the museum. The first exhibition of the museum was opened in 1923, that is 65 years ago. The museum belonged at first to the Museum of Fine Arts, later to the National Museum and since the second world war to the Museum of Decorative Arts.

By 1950 the number of pieces kept in the Hopp Museum reached ten thousand and by now this number has been doubled to nearly 20 thousand. The museum has three major collections, from China, Japan and from India. This fact makes it possible to organize comprehensive exhibitions in these fields.

Both the Chinese and Japanese collections contain about 6000 pieces, nevertheless the difference is rather great between them: while the build-up of the Chinese collection covers nearly three thousand years, beginning from the Shan-Ying period to the present day, the Japanese collection contains only a few pieces which date back earlier than the Tokugawa period. The Indian and related South Indian collections make up about 2000 pieces.

Besides these large collections the museum has several smaller collections from other Asian countries like Turkey, Iran, Nepal, Tibet and Vietnam.

The Korean collection–consisting of about 200 pieces-belongs to such smaller collections. Before showing you the slides of the best works of art I should like to say a few words about the origin of them, that is how they got into the museum. As I mentioned, Ferenc Hopp bought some pieces on the spot, in Korea, during his trip in 1903.

In 1936 Zoltán Felvinczi Takács, the first director of the museum visited the Far Eastern countries on a study trip and he also bought some Korean pieces, mostly ceramics, rooftiles and a few old bronzes.

After the world war Tibor Horváth, the second director of the museum, bought some Korean celadons in Japan. Sometimes we can buy a few Korean objects also from private collectors at Budapest.

I should like to illustrate now some pieces from the Korean collection. Let me begin with Korean pottery and porcelains because this is the most represented branch of decorative arts.

We have a few fragments of early pottery roof tiles from the Unified Silla and Koryo periods. These pieces were brought by Zoltán Takács and Tibor Horváth.

Although a fragment only, the most interesting piece is a tile with a monster mask. When I visited the National Museum of Kyongju three years ago, I saw a similar but complete tile there from the Unified Silla period.

The predecessors of such representations of monsters are known in China, from where we have a clay tile with the figure of a demon from the T’ang period.

A few celadon glazed bowls, cups and a stem cup illustrate the new type of ceramic of the Koryo period.

A small dish is decorated with inlay work already.

The finest celadon in the museum is a round box from the Koryo period, from the 11th or 12th century. The lid shows a decoration flowers in gray and white inlay. This masterpiece was brought by Tibor Horváth from Japan. The rim of the lid was repaired in gold lacquer, indicating that the box was held in high esteem in old Japan. This box was used probably as a cosmetic box, as the book “The Art of Korea, Volume 4. Ceramics” illustrates a similar celadon box with smaller boxes inside as such.

This fine maebyong vase shows painted chrysanthemum design over the celadon glaze. Such decorative techniques go back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Nevertheless, due to the lack of comparative material, it is difficult to date our piece precisely. Traditionally it has been dated to the 15th-16th centuries, although I can imagine a little earlier dating.

Blue and white porcelains from the Yi period are represented with a porcelain water dropper. This has a small landscape design on the top. This can be dated to the later part of the Yi dynasty, to the 18th or 19th century when many such writing utensils were made for the literati.

This blue and white porcelain bottle is decorated with the figure of a dragon. It represents the finer porcelains of the Yi-period, of the 17th or 18th century.

A blue and white porcelain jar is a less fine example of late Yi-period porcelains. Also the design of the dragon lacks force and elegance here.

Metal work is represented by a few old pieces, metal vessels and two Buddhist images.

Besides some ceremonial metal bowls we have four spoons made of a special metal alloy. These represent the metal utensils of the Koryo period. I saw some similar metal spoons in the National Museum of Seoul, made in this period.

A round bronze mirror decorated with chrysanthemums may probably be dated to the same period. Such Korean mirrors influenced Japanese mirrors of the Kamakura period.

I should like to show you now three somewhat problematic bronzes. The first one is an incense burner and it looks like a late Chinese thing but its form and decorations are different.

The second one is an oval vessel. Again, it is decoration and form are different from Chinese exameles.

The third one, an incense burner with a small Fo-dog on the cover shows a mixture of Chinese and Korean style.

These three bronzes were tentatively dated by Mr. Horváth to the 15th or 16th century.

The museum has two bronze Buddha images which have been dated to the mid-Koryo period. The first one shows the Buddha in a sitting, meditative pose with his hands in namaskara mudra. The comparatively large head suggests an archaic aspect to this piece.

The other image represents Buddha Shakyamuni standing, with his right hand in abhaya mudra and the left hand in varada mudra. This image is gilded and its make is finer than that of the former one. The double, octagonal lotus pedestal is modelled carefully. The origin of such octagonal pedestals can be followed back to the Buddhist images of the Unified Silla period.

Unfortunately, the museum has no fine ink paintings from Korea. Mr. Horváth bought this late Yi period, 19th century painting in Japan. It is a traditional flower picture with rock and butterfly. The painting has no signature, only the characters for flower and butterfly outside.

Buddhist painting is represented by a Buddha triad together with deities of Chinese type. Such paintings are characterized by the dominant use of red and blue colours and are dated mostly to the 17th-18th centuries.

Another, later painting-executed in a more popular style-represents Mahamayuri, the Buddist goddess sitting on a peacock.

Other branches of decorative arts are represented by stray pieces only. This small ink slab is decorated with the figure of a dragon and it has a seal as well. While the dragon has a traditional look, the tiger and bamboo on the backside display a characteristic Korean style.

We have no old lacquerwares. From modern lacquerwares I can show you this box with the inlaid decoration of deers.

Traditional Korean furniture is represented by two small writing tables and a chest with metal fittings.

I should like to close the survey of old works of art with this cover of a bronze incense burner from the mid-Koryo period. It carries the figure of a unicorn, executed in a refined and suggestive way. This is my favourite bronze in the collection. The rare analogies which I have found to this masterpiece are Koryo and Sung period incense burners.

The lower part of such vessels is supported by three legs.

After this short survey of old works of art I should like to mention the other Korean materials of the museum as well.

In 1958 the Korean Council for Cultural Relations sent 85 items- consisting of 120 objects -from Pyongyang to the Hungarian Institute for Cultural Relations. These pieces were transferred to the Ferenc Hopp Museum. I mention here that the Hungarian Institute for Cultural Relations arranged such exchanges with other Asian countries as well. In a similar way we received modern works of decorative arts and woodblock prints from China, a few old miniature paintings and modern oil paintings from India and a traditional bridal kimono from Japan. Old Hungarian folk costumes, modern graphical works and other such items were sent to those countries in exchange.

The mentioned Korean exchange-gift comprised mostly new but traditional works of decorative arts. Ceramic art was represented by ten copies of typical Koryo celadon wares with inlaid decoration. Metalworks included a set of traditional bowls and cups for rice, soup and kimchi, a sinsolo cooking vessel and other items. A few lacquerwares, mostly small boxes, illustrate the various decorative techniques. Traditional Korean dresses were represented by newly-made complets dresses and by five puppets. The five silk embroideries show landscapes and figures as well.

A set of wedding jewellery from the girdle consists of five pieces carved jades and coral—from different periods.

A bow, a quiver, writing utensils and woven mats complete this collection.

Thanks to the effort of Tibor Horváth, the former director of the museum, and to an official at the Hungarian embassy in Pyongyang, we have a complete series of copies in original size of the wall paintings of the third tomb at Anak. The Hungarian side provided funds for copying all the wall paintings and this was executed by Korean painters working on the spot. According to the Chinese inscription the tomb was made for a Chinese born governor who died in 357. However, North Korean scholars consider it as the tomb of the Korean king Michon. I would be glad to hear your opinion on this matter.

Besides the governor or king and his wise, the wall paintings show another official several house scenes and a long procession of mounted warriors, dignitaries and dancer as well. Two wooden models of the tomb chambers were made showing the structure and the wall paintings of the tomb in small size.

After this short survey of the Korean collection I should like to say a few words about how we used and exhibited these Korean materials. Although the collection is rather small, we organized several exhibitions of them. Besides, these Korean objects were put on show when the introduction to the art of the whole Far East was the target, because the leading curators of the museum were well aware of the important role of Korean art in the developments of arts in the Far East.

In 1959 the Hopp Museum held its 40th anniversary jubilee exhibition in the Museum of Decorative Arts at Budapest. With regard to scope and space, this exhibition was the largest in the history of the museum. Practically all outstanding works of art were put into this show. I arranged the Korean part of this exhibition myself.

In 1969, when we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the museum, the Korean materials were arranged in a separate room.

From time to time we borrowed Korean objects from the Museum of Ethnography and also from private persons.

The museum has arranged separate exhibitions of Korean art as well. In 1950 such a Korean exhibition was installed in an art gallery at Budapest. In 1955 a Korean exhibition was set up for the city of Gyula in Eastern Hungary. A small suburb of Budapest, Nagytétény, has a fine old baroque castle which serves as a museum. Practically all the Korean collection was exhibited there in 1978.

In 1958, when the mentioned exchange-gift arrived from Pyongyang, it was put on show in the exhibition hall of the Institute for Cultural Relations.

In 1956 a special exhibition was arranged in the building of the Hopp Museum from the mentioned wall paintings from Anak. Hungarian archaeologists scrutinized the paintings for possible analogies to horse fittings, weapons and other equipments used by the peoples of the migration period.

In 1980 the Museum of Ethnography of Budapest received a comprehensive traveling exhibition or Korean culture from Pyongyang. This included archaeological finds and various works of art. I helped with the arranging and wrote also a short text to the catalogue. From an old wooden block of a Buddhist sutra I also made a print to illustrate the old method of printing.

Concluding the record of exhibitions, I may add that although our collection is rather small, we are fortunate perhaps because we can illustrate the artistic celadon wares of the Koryo period, some old bronzes and Buddhist works of art and also most of the traditional crafts. The greatest lack is unfortunately in old and modern ink paintings and woodblock prints.

Thank you very much for your kind attention and I wish you good luck and endurance in your work.


Horváth, Tibor: Korea legrégibb falfestményei. /The oldest wall paintings of Korea/. In: Természet és Társadalom/Nature and Society/, No. CXV/8, Budapest, 1956.

Horváth, Tibor: Korea régi művészete. / Ancient art of Korea/. / A catalogue/. Budapest, 1950.

Ferenczy, László: The collection of Korean industrial art. In: Annuaire du Musée desArts Décoratifs et du Musée d’Art d’Extrême Orient Ferenc Hopp, Vol. V. Budapest, 1962. pp. 147-161.

Ferenczy, László: The Korean Collection. In: Handbook of the Ferenc Hopp Museum of Eastern Asiatic Arts. Budapest, 1970, pp. 59-63, 121-122.

Ferenczy, László: Korea kultúrtörténete. /The cultural history of Kora/. Foreword to the exhibition of the Museum of Ethnography/. Budapest, 1980.