Shin Saimdang is one of the most recognizable and well-known women in the history of Korea. She is famous for being a talented painter, calligraphist, embroiderer, writer and poet and at the same time a role model mother of seven children.
She was born in 1504 in the village of Bukpyong, Kangneung, Kangwon Province in Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Her father — Shin Myeonghwa was a distinguished academic and gained the title of Presented Scholar in 1516. Saimdang’s mother also originated from the family of savant Yi Saon. She was the only daughter and got a proper education in classics.
Shin Saimdang was deeply influenced by her family. She had four sisters and no brothers. In Joseon Korean culture it was transitionally correct for the oldest son to take care of his mother and father. Having no sons, Saimdang’s parents could rely only on their daughters. Saimdang was responsible for providing and caring for them until their deaths. She also brought up seven children. One of her sons was a renowned scholar and politician Yi I who is regarded as one of the greatest Joseon Neo-Confucian reformer. For all that accomplishments Shin Saimdang received the title “Lady of Honor” and is the role model for all Korean mothers.
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During the five-century room of Joseon Dynasty, many artists depicted everyday life in their drawings which now serve as reflections of the Joseon era. Shin Saimdang was into nature since she was a little girl. She began to display her artistic talent at a really early age, her father discovered her aptitude and supported his little daughter.
She has always felt connected to the world around; all this feeling can be clearly seen in her drawings. Her work was done with passion, showing her love and honor of nature. Saimdang portrayed plants the way she perceived them with her eyes and soul thus creating her own artistic genre — “Chochungdo.” She made many paintings of nature, such as ground cherries, eggplants, and watermelon, earning respect as an artist. There is even a story that one day a butterfly landed on a flower that was drawn on her painting because it looked so real. That shows how much time Saimdang dedicated to depicting the nature with utter precision, conserving its perfection.
Famous paintings made by Shin Saimdang
The most famous artwork of Shin Saimdang is a folding screen decorated with eight elements including grass and insects. It is called “Eight-fold Chochungdo.” It is recognized as a masterpiece for the subtle depiction of flowers, fruits, and insects in clear colors and stable composition. Many other artists tried their hands at Chochungdo but none of them was able to master it as Shin Saimdang did, that is why the name Chochungdo and Shin Saimdang are inseparable.
Capability to successfully combine her family responsibilities as an ideal mother, wife, and daughter and succeeding in art even in a male-dominated era has brought her great recognition and high respect in present-day Korea. Shin Saimdang is the only woman featured on the Korean banknote, and it is impossible to find any other woman who is that highly praised in this country.