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Uigwe transcriptions by French researcher discovered in French museum

An illustration from Uigwe transcriptions written by French researcher Henri Chevalie (National Museum of Asian Arts-Guimet)
An illustration from Uigwe transcriptions written by French researcher Henri Chevalie (National Museum of Asian Arts-Guimet)


The Overseas Korean Culture Heritage Foundation has found transcriptions of Uigwe -- the royal protocol of the Joseon era -- at the National Museum of Asian Arts-Guimet in France.

The books were created by French researcher Henri Chevalier and cover two Uigwe -- Heonjong Daewang Gukjang Dogam Uigwe and Hyohyeon Wanghu Gukjang Dogam Uigwe, which consist of 10 and six books, respectively.

Heonjong Daewang Gukjang Dogam Uigwe records the state funeral ceremony held after King Heongjong died in 1849. Hyohyeon Wanghu Gukjang Dogam Uigwe is a record of a state funeral ceremony held in 1843 after King Heonjong’s wife Queen Hyohyeon died.

Uigwe usually contains records and illustrations of protocol and ceremonies conducted for royal weddings, funerals, banquets, reception of foreign missions and cultural activities of the Joseon royal family. Noting their rarity, UNESCO enlisted Uigwe on its Memory of the World Register in 2007.

“The transcriptions of the two Uigwe were found during our examination conducted last year in France after we signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Museum of Asian Arts-Guimet,” an Overseas Korean Culture Heritage Foundation official told The Korea Herald.

The foundation examined more than 1,300 Korea-related cultural artifacts at the National Museum of Asian Arts-Guimet and Cernuschi Museum, Museum of the Asian Arts of Paris from June 24 to July 19 last year.

The two Uigwe consist of books measuring 21.5 centimeters in width and 31.4 centimeters in length.

According to the foundation, the French researcher’s books say they were written from 1899 to 1906.

The foundation believes that Chevalier is likely to have transcribed the two Uigwe based on the books from Oegyujanggak that were looted by the French navy in 1866.

Oegyujanggak is an annex of Gyujanggak, or the Royal Library, built on Ganghwa Island in 1782 by King Jeongjo.

The looted books are now back in Seoul but France holds ownership.

Chevalier is also known for having published a booklet in French about Hwaseong Seongyeok Uigwe, which includes illustrations of Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

The foundation added that it plans to further examine items in the French museums, but said it would not happen this year due to the spread of the coronavirus.

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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