The Korea Herald

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Silla heavenly horse painting opens for public viewing

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : May 5, 2023 - 13:10

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"Jangni Cheonmado" at Gyeongju National Museum's special exhibition (Gyeongju National Museum)

"Jangni Cheonmado," the heavenly horse painting on a Silla-era (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.) saddle strap from the Cheonmachong Tomb, a National Treasure, is now on public display for the first time in nine years at the Gyeongju National Museum's Special Exhibition Hall.

Titled, "Return of Cheonma," the exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Cheonmachong Tomb in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, alongside various artifacts unearthed from the Silla royal tombs.

The painting, which was excavated in 1973, is thought to have been produced sometime between the 5th and 6th century AD. The painting depicts Cheonma, a mystical creature in Korean folklore.

Resembling a white winged horse, its tail is turned upward and its tongue darts out, creating a dynamic image. Studies suggest that the Cheonma was a creature who flew between earth and heaven with the mission of carrying the dead to heaven.

Drawn on a "jangni," which refers to a mudguard flap made of birch bark that hangs down from the saddle, the piece is 5 centimeters long and 53 centimeters wide.

"Jangni Cheonmado" (Cultural Heritage Administration)

It is the fourth time that the Cheonmado has been open for public viewing. Two special exhibitions were held at the National Museum of Korea in 1997 and 2009, and the most recent at the Gyeongju National Museum in 2014. Since then, for preservation, the piece had been kept safely in the museum's storage for nine years.

During the excavation from April to December 1973, over 10,000 artifacts were found. Among them, four became national treasures, and another six were designated as treasures.

Meanwhile, a total of four different heavenly horse paintings from the Silla Kingdom can be seen at the special exhibition this year. Out of the four, two pieces that are in relatively good condition will be shown until June 11, and the other more heavily damaged pieces will be on display from June 12 to July 16.

The exhibition also includes photographs of various artifacts excavated from the Silla royal tombs, taken by photographer Gu Bon-chang.

Filming and photography are strictly prohibited while viewing the Cheonmado.