8. The Chosun Paintings of Sapsaree

Dogs make frequent appearances in Chosun paintings. Dogs occasionally appear as a main character, but there are also times when the dogs, not as a main character, are sitting beside a main character in folk paintings and paintings of Sin-sun, a Taoist hermit with supernatural powers who dwelled in mountains. Dogs appear in Moobaedo which is to ward off evil spirit and are magnificently painted in Hwajo (paintings of flowers and birds), and Youngmo (paintings of flowers and wild animals) also.

Dogs were, no doubt, a common theme to the painters of the Chosun Dynasty. Because they were easily seen around and it was possible to actually approach them, many paintings of dogs exist. The number of paintings of Sapsaree is relatively huge. Sapsarees are diversely portrayed among the Youngmo painting, Moonbaedo of folk painting, and Soomokhwa, which are high quality paintings drawn by literary artists of the time. Through these diverse paintings, we can see how Sapsarees are connected to the emotions of our ancestors.

Painting #12 is a painting of a Sapsaree by Gi-won. This painting was discovered in the eight-folded painting made during the mid-Chosun era. In this meticulously drawn painting, the dogs' long-hairs are delicately portrayed with a fine touch. The painting shows artisanship so great that it makes us ask ourselves, "can a dog be depicted as holy as this?" The flaming halo behind the dog's back identifies the dog as a holy animal. The painting states that the Sapsaree dogs possess dignity and a holy atmosphere strong enough to overwhelm all animals. This painting of a large-eyed goblin face attached to the Sapsaree dog's body with a halo over the head is more than sufficient to suppress the evil spirit.

Picture #13 is drawn by Sim-jun and is a front view picture of a crouching Sapsaree dog with similar atmosphere. The enlarged upper body and goblin's head are very similar to the paintings of original Sapsaree dogs. The eye glare strong enough to suppress misfortune, big teeth with fist-like nose, and drooped ears covered with long hair resemble those of the original Sapsaree dogs. It's tail pointing upwards and waving with the wind resembles that of the Owon Sapsaree dog that barks underneath the paulownia tree while staring at the moon. Particularly, this picture resembles the posture and appearance of Tang Lion or Haetae that is illustrated in Moonbaedo (picture #14).

Picture #14 is one of the Moonbaedo paintings that was posted on the barn door to drive away evil spirits inside. Since Sapsarees are still not widely known, the dog in the painting is mistaken as being a Haetae or Tang Lion. The dog's posture as it looks forwards with its tail pointed upwards, long hair around its face like that of a lion's mane, round eyeballs, dark eyebrows, fist-like nose and drooping ears very closely resemble the realistic appearance of picture #13. Consequently, picture 14 is a Moonbaedo that shows practicality, so it is appropriate to say that the dog in the painting is a figure of a Sapsaree dog. A collar decorated with metal bell and red tassel around the dog's neck is a luxurious dog collar that is consistent with the expensive dog collar that was popular during the Chosun Dynasty. This collar can also be seen in Yiam's dog painting. If it was a picture of a lion or a haetae, then there shouldn't be a collar around the neck. Moreover, in picture 14, the long hair around the head makes it resemble the image of a male lion and the Blue Sapsaree dog's feature of its body reflecting colors ranging from blue-black to gray-black, in contrast to the light tone-color hair of its feet and bottom, is well portrayed. The round spot in the black and blue colored back and face gives the picture a more divine feeling, but it is absent in picture 15. Picture 15 is a variation of picture 14 that shows less fierceness, making it a more formatted Moonbaedo painting. The painting is also known as a Smithsonian Collector. The posture and characteristics of picture 15 is almost identical to those of picture 14. The only difference is that instead of a black spot, the upper body is entirely painted blue. We can see the pattern of the halo's position and shape, collar, and mane in the picture.

Picture 16 is a similar type of painting as these two previously discussed paintings and is a picture of a Sapsaree dog with heavenly peaches. A Yellow Sapsaree dog is lying down above a deep blue boulder and underneath it, a scene of a Blue Sapsaree dog running around with its puppies is powerfully drawn.This picture, which displays Yeoung-ji mushrooms under the dog's feet, creates a fantasy ambience. A significant portion of Korean folk paintings show a horn-like halo around the back and rear legs of a dog for symbolizing leadership. We can guess from this that the Sapsaree dogs were naturally recognized in the art culture as being chief animals.

Picture 17 is a picture found in one of the folded screens of Owon Seung-ub Jang's eight-folded screen showing a Sapsaree dog barking underneath a paulownia tree. The large and developed upper body, raised tail, red fist-like nose and blunt muzzle, as well as emerging teeth and furious eye expression are common traits found in paintings of Sapsaree dogs. Seung-ub Jang drew many other paintings of Sapsaree dogs, and most of them contain a scene of Sapsaree dog sitting underneath a paulownia tree or barking while staring at a moon. It is likely that Jang loved dogs very much.

In picture 18, which is a work by Hong-do Kim, a genius painter well known for his work in genre paintings, and titled Haengsang-gunseondo, there is a picture of a large dog. This dog seems to take an important role in the painting as it is right next to Sin-sun who is standing over a tidal wave. As expected, this dog has long hair and drooping ear, and light colored bottom yet dark back, which are identical to the characteristics of Blue Sapsaree dogs. In many of Kim's genre paintings, our simple native dogs are drawn in a way that creates a dynamic taste and realistic nature of his painting.

In Kyungjakdo painting, a black Sapsaree dog is following around a farmer outside and there is also a scene of two gentlemen sitting down under a tree outside enjoying their free time. The author is unknown, but the painting that most realistically portrays a Sapsaree dog, as if it took a picture of one, is picture 19, which was a private possession of a royal family. This picture, which is now a property of National Museum of Korea, is presumed to be a high quality painting of an official government painter of Chosun Dynasty, and the dog's face, which is drawn with a slender-writing brush, is identical to that of a middle-sized Sapsaree dog. Delicate details including the splitting forehair of Sapsarees due to long hair and drooping ears, and the expression of staring at the front with fixed eyes could not have been drawn without the painter's dexterity. The hedge, which is drawn as the background of the painting, further adds to the Korean taste of this marvelous painting.