National Palace Museum of Korea

National Palace Museum


5 Joseon Science Ⅰ

5 Joseon Science Ⅰ

Since ancient times it was the prescribed role of the ruler to ascertain the Heavenly will as recipient of the Mandate of Heaven and to determine the time in order to benefit the everyday lives of the people by observing the skies. Especially, crucial to an agrarian society was the identification of the correct time and the season for farming. This was done by observing the movements of the sun, moon and constellations. Thus, the Joseon kings showed intense interest in observing and analysing the astronomical phenomena and employed their findings in their decisions regarding the state or the everyday lives of the people. King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, maintained Seoungwan, the Office of Astronomy and Meteorology of the Goryeo Dynasty, and had it observe the celestial movements and keep detailed records. During the reign of King Sejong, the Joseon Dynasty saw great advances in astronomy. King Sejong had specialized astronomers develop astronomical instruments, which resulted in the production of accurate celestial charts, publications on astronomy and revised calendars for regulating farming cycles in the Korean peninsula.

5 Joseon Science Ⅰ - Main Artifacts

Plaque of Gyujeonggak Pavilion written by King Yeongjo

Plaque of Gyujeonggak Pavilion written by King Yeongjo Joseon, 1732 The plaque was hung at Gyujeonggak in Gyeongdeokgung Palace, which is currently called Gyeonghuigung Palace. Written by King Yeongjo (r. 1724~1776) in 1732, the plaque expounds on the history of Gyujeonggak and the fact that an armillary sphere was housed in the building.

Astrolabe Joseon This device is designed to represent the celestial movement of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, which are respectively engraved on each side of the round brass panel. The circular frame of the astrolabe marks 360° division of angles, sections with the twelve oriental zodiac signs, the names of major constellations and 24 seasonal subdivisions. An arc in the middle of the panel, which can be turned, indicates the horizon of a particular day.


Armillary Sphere

Armillary Sphere Late Joseon The armillary sphere functioned as an astronomical clock that measured the location and the movement of celestial bodies. It is also known as Honcheonui.

Illuminated Constellation Chart Late Joseon This is a constellation chart that divides the celestial bodies into 12 sectors with reference to the Polaris. Fourteen of the twenty–eight constellations that surround the celestial equator and the ecliptic, used in East Asia since ancient times, are indicated in the map.

Illuminated Constellation Chart

Celestial Chart Stone

Celestial Chart Stone Joseon, 1395 | Black marble |W. 123.0cm, D. 12.0cm, H. 211.0cm | National Treasure No.228 This marble constellation chart, namely the Cheonsang Yeolchabunyajido天象列次分野之圖, was engraved in 1395, the 4th year of the Joseon Dynasty. It is currently the world’s second oldest surviving piece of astronomical charts, next to a Chinese piece dated 1241, Emperor Chunyou’s reign, Southern Song. Each side of this Joseon stone tablet bears the twenty-eight important constellations in twelve sectors, latitude of celestial equator, 2,932 letters and 1,467 stars, the maximum number of stars observable with naked eyes in Korea. It is an interesting fact that an identical constellation chart on the other side (above) is engraved upside-down. According to the inscription by Gwon Geun權近, a contemporary scholar official, this astronomical chart is based on a rubbed copy from a stone astronomical chart of the Goguryeo Kingdom (1st century BCE~668 CE), the original stele of which was lost during a war. A replica made in the same format in 1687 is also designated as Treasure No. 837.

Woodblock Print of the Celestial Chart Stone Joseon | Ink on paper | W. 83.0cm, H. 129.0cm This copy of the 1395 Celestial Chart Stone is a woodblock print produced in 1571, the reign of King Seonjo (r.1567~1608). The constellation chart was printed in multiple copies at the Office for Observance of Natural Phenomena (Gwansanggam觀象監) to present to scholar officials above the rank 2. Another copy of this print survives in Tenri University, Japan.

Woodblock Print of the Celestial Chart Stone

5 Joseon Science Ⅰ - Main Artifacts