Gathering of Government–Officials, ca. 1551
Hanging scroll; ink and light color on silk; 51 x 26 3/4 in. (129.5 x 67.9 cm)
Purchase, Acquisitions Fund, and The Vincent Astor Foundation and Hahn Kwang Ho Gifts, 2008 (2008.55)
Pictorial records of what may loosely be termed literary gatherings developed into a unique and vibrant genre within early Joseon paintings. These festive social occasions brought together men in office at various stages in their careers (and sometimes those in retirement), who were of the same age, or had passed the state entrance examination in the same year, or worked in the same government bureau.
In this scroll, the title of the painting and the list of participants in the event, which would normally have framed the painting at top and bottom, have been disposed of altogether, replaced at the top by a verbal description of the gathering. Moreover, the landscape and figures are equally prominent, though the central placement of the rocky mountains and winding stream endows nature with the greater importance. At the same time, the scholars and their attendants, under tall pine trees in the bottom right corner, are rendered meticulously and clearly. This painting, especially its landscape elements, presents a remarkably accurate yet creative rendering of the An Gyeon style, including an indirect reference to the Northern Song painter Guo Xi. This is the work of a highly sophisticated court painter who has successfully reinvigorated the enduring pictorial paradigms of the past—distant and immediate, foreign and native—in a distinctive and eloquent style.
Jeong Saryong, a government official and famous literatus, poet, and calligrapher, wrote the poetic inscription in 1551, identifying the event as a commemorative reunion of sixty-year-old men who entered the government around the same time. It offers a vivid description of the camaraderie of the friends and colleagues depicted in the painting, recounting a gathering to drink and recite poetry during a break in their jobs. An English translation of the poem is as follows:
Born in the same year we stood shoulder to shoulder.
Passed the civil or military examination at more or less the same time.
Time passes, and now we are facing seventy years of age.
Dressed in elegant clothing and hats, wise men meet.
We emulate the Literary Gathering of Luoyang,
And the painting shows respect for the elders, following Xiang San.
We pause in our busy schedules and recite poetry over wine
Then hasten back to the offices to labor day and night.
Our gathering is humble and frugal, modeled after Jinsolhoe.
Whoever said loftiness is easily followed?
Lacking poetry for this great event, I raise my glass.
Lacking talent, my thoughts turn blank.
Written in the latter half of the twelfth month of 1551.