Last princess revived in exhibition
Deokhye (1912-1989), the fateful last princess of the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910), has almost been forgotten.
Her life reflected the ups and downs of her country’s fate and is shown at a special exhibition of the National Palace Museum in Gyeongbok Palace, Seoul, that opened Tuesday and continues through Jan. 27.
Marking the 100th anniversary of Deokhye’s birth, it displays her belongings such as her clothing and accessories as well as items from her wedding and photos along with relevant documents are on show to the public for the first time in collaboration with the Kyushu National Museum and the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum.
She was born in 1912 at Changdeok Palace in Seoul as the youngest daughter of King Gojong. She was particularly loved by her father who was in his 60s when she was born. But under Japanese colonial rule, the princess was forcibly sent to Japan in 1925 at the age of 14 and married Count So Takeyuki, the heir to the So clan whose ancestors had ruled Tsushima Island for a long time when 20.
The marriage was part of the Japanization of the Korean royal family as the colonial government was afraid that they could become a focus for the independence movement.
While living in Japan, she suffered from mental illness and homesickness, becoming a miserable, forgotten woman nobody cared about or recognized.
Thirty-seven years after leaving Korea, she returned home by the invitation of the Korean government in 1962. She lived in Nakseon Hall at Changdeok Palace and died at the age of 76 in the palace’s Sugang Hall on April 21, 1989.
The costumes on exhibit include “dangui,” traditional royal garments for women, mostly those Deokhye wore in childhood and adolescence. A green piece which is assumed she wore in her teens is adorned with embroidered dragons on the chest, shoulders and back. A long scarlet skirt worn when she was a girl at a formal event features flamboyant gilding patterned with Chinese letters and flowers.
After she divorced her husband, he sent her clothes and other items to King Yeongchin, the seventh son of King Gojong, in 1955 but he donated them to Yoshichika Tokugawa (1886-1976), the then president of Bunka Gakuen.
Her belongings include items sent to the So family when Deokhye married such as a silver tea spoon and other metal kitchenware. The pieces were obtained by a Japanese collector and donated to the Kyushu National Museum.
A silver bowl is on display, embellished with a landscape depicting mountains and boats floating on the ocean. Also, silver decorations on a rice chest and a caldron are marked “suneun” (pure silver) and “mi” (beauty).
The exhibition is an opportunity to understand the royal lifestyle and the miserable life of Deokhye, a symbol of the waning state.
For more information, call (02) 3701-7631.