Item: cc1254

Korean Joseon Sword, Byeolwundo circa 1800



    Overall length: 73.66 cm

    Blade length: 53.65 cm

    Crossguard diamter: 8.9 cm

    Weight: 1.5 lbs Price on request

    A rare type of sword called a byeolwundo, this form was government manufactured during the Joseon Dynasty and was used by the Royal Guards in the Joseon Royal Palaces. The Joseon Dynasty built Five Grand Palaces in Seoul – Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Deoksugung, Gyeongbokgung, and Gyeonghuigung – all located in the Jongno and Jung District. These palaces are considered especially important examples of the architecture of the Joseon period. Furthermore, other royal dwelling such as the Unhyeongung were known as residences for Joseon Dynasty royals such as the Regent Daewongun. The area inside the palace was called the Geumgung (the Restricted Palace) or Geumnae (the Restricted Inside) and the soldiers who guarded this prohibited area and escorted the King were named Geumgun (the Restriction Guards). There was an Office of Restriction Guards in the central palace, in charge of protecting the King's residence. The chief of this office ranked 12th in the official government system. During the Joseon Dynasty, the chief, along with the guards, were involved in three types of ceremonies: the ceremony of opening and closing the main gate of the palace, guarding the palace, and patrolling. Moreover, the palaces had Royal Guards who were entitled to a variety of swords, all government manufactured according to specific standards of uniformity.

    In reality, there was a wider dispersal of differing styles though a number of uniform traits can be identified (Macao Museum of Art 2007). The distinct characteristics of Korean swords are inherent in this example. First, the use of shark or fish skin as a decorative covering provided not only a rough hewn decorative motif, which is prevalent in much of Korean decorative art, but also provided a better grip for holding the sword. On this example, the shark skin forms the covering of the grip, distinguished further by the securing mechanism to the tang, which is a tube, in copper, that goes straight through the tang and secures the handle to the blade. The scabbard is likewise covered in this marine skin and retains much of its original black lacquer. The fittings also display simplicity and, traditional Korean decorative influence traditional Korean decorative influence in the construction. The use of copper en suite for all of the fittings, including the crossguard, is indicative of Korean workmanship as is the flattened chape with a stylized cutout bearing a resemblance to the classic Japanese inome boars heart design, found on Japanese arms and armor such as tsuba. This resemblance to Japanese motifs is common on Korean swords, which have a similar appearance to Japanese wakizashi and katana, though the proportions, detailing, and decorative motifs often point to distinct Korean aspects.

    The crossguard of this sword is larger than those normally found on Korean swords. Nearly 3½ inches in width, the cutout form in copper of three, swirling cloud forms has analogs in Japanese tsubas design of the mitsu tomoe form, but in Korea, this design is the traditional tri-form taeguk. The two- form taeguk, commonly known in Western cultures as a yin-yang symbol, is also found in Korea in a tri-form. This symbol, the Sam-Saegui Taegeuk, is deeply embedded in Korean tradition, typically interpreted through three interconnected swirling colors, and often found on Korean drums (see figure above and GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig (2013: cat. nr. 1055) This symbol is indicative of a myriad of complex, yet fundamental principles (e.g., unity, completeness, harmony, etc.), and is associated with the more familiar yin-yang concept (the blending of yin-yang is called Tai Chi in Chinese and Tae Geuk in Korean and is often translated as grand ultimate or great polarity/duality). While the Chinese yin-yang typically has two smaller circles inside each teardrop-shaped half of the entire circle, the Korean symbol does not. Rather than using small circles contained within each portion to symbolize the flux between the two forces, Koreans utilize the 3 primary colors to designate the 2 opposing forces in nature (um/yang), as well as the balance needed for both to successfully coexist.

    The overall condition is worn but original, with some scuffing to the lacquer and a darkened patina on all of the copper fittings, which are all present.


    Private English collection


    British Library. (1809) An illustrated Korean manuscript describing ceremonies conducted in the first month of 1809 to mark the 60th anniversary of the consummation of the marriage of Lady Hyegyŏng (Hyegyŏnggung Hong Ssi, 1735-1815), widow of Crown Prince Sado of Korea. OR 7458

    GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig (2013) . Korean Art Collection. GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig: Leipzig

    Macao Museum of Art. (2007). History of Steel in Eastern Asia–A View on the Development of Weaponry. Macao P.R.C