The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current exhibit, “Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom” has many incredible artifacts on display. There are intricate jars and pots from various centuries, ceramic tiles used to decorate tombs, weapons, jewelry, and even shoes. Each piece is unique, and many are extravagant. There is even a golden Buddha statue that is extraordinary to view in person. The piece that I found most remarkable, however, was a chestlace from the end of the 4th Century.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art provided some information about this Asian art exhibit, stating that it was made from glass, gold, and jade and that it measures approximately seventeen inches from end to end. The chestlace itself consists of short glass-beaded strands. The beads are very small, no larger than a kernel of corn. Most of the colors on the beads range from a paler blue to dark cobalt. There are several beads mixed in that are white or green. Most of these occur at the end of the small strands, though not at the end of every strand, so it is hard to tell if there is a pattern.
The chestlace is broken into segments of strands. Each segment contains about seven of the small strands grouped together. The segments are then threaded through a horizontal gold bar that is about the thickness of a pencil. Each half of the necklace is made up of three of these groupings. In the center of the chestlace is one of the comma-shaped pendants, which are, according to Soyoung Lee’s Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom, known as gogok. The gogok on this chestlace is made from a very light green jade. It is a little larger than a thumb (Lee 119).
There are three major components to the chestlace: the glass beads, the golden bars, and the jade pendant. Lee explains that during the time of the Silla Kingdom, glass used for jewelry was often imported from other places. Lee suggests that these specific beads were made from glass imported from Southeast Asia, which was then melted down by local craftsmen, and reshaped into the small beads used in the chestlace (Lee 19). Yong Jin Choi’s Silla Korea and the Silk Road: Golden Age, Golden Threads contends that there are also beads made from lapis lazuli, and that these beads would have been made from materials brought to Korea from Afghanistan (Choi 151). Again, there are dozens of beads that are small and fairly uniform in shape, so they must have been made by a very skilled jewelry maker.
The golden bars are fairly simple in design. There are a total of six bars through which the beaded strands are threaded. Viewing this at the museum, it did not seem particularly intricate or difficult, but according to Choi, these beads are worth comment. According to Choi, “Sillian artisans pioneered a technique of punching rounded holes...through which the threads could be looped” (151). While the gold itself is an import from the Silk Road, this use of it in jewelry making is Korean in origin.
The most iconic piece in the chestlace is the jade pendant that hangs in the center. It is about two or three inches in length and made from a light green jade. Fred Kleiner’s Gardner's Art through the Ages: A Global History explains that working with jade was very difficult during the time of the Silla Kingdom. It states, “even after the invention of bronze tools...sculptures still had to rely on grinding and abrasion rather than simple drilling and chiseling to produce the intricately shaped, pierced, and engraved works” (Kleiner 185). The pendant is remarkable, but each component of the chestlace has its own beauty, in both appearance and creation. It is a truly stunning piece of art.
Choi, Yong Jin, and N.Y. York. Silla Korea and the Silk Road golden age, golden threads. New York: Korea Society, 2006. Print.
Kleiner, Fred. Gardner's Art through the Ages: A Global History, Enhanced Edition. 13th ed. New York: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
Lee, Soyoung. Silla. Korea's Golden Kingdom. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Print.