Anonymous Korean artisan
Anonymous Korean artisan
Anonymous Korean artisan
Anonymous Korean artisan
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Anonymous Korean artisan

Book of Fortunes, in Chinese, decorated manuscript on paper [Korea, ?19th century]

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Anonymous Korean artisan
Book of Fortunes, in Chinese, decorated manuscript on paper [Korea, ?19th century]
A heavily-consulted Book of Fortunes for use by a Korean soothsayer: those who sought to know their future might ask a number of questions, to which the owner of the manuscript would divine the answer from the brightly-coloured pages.

310 x 195mm. c.90 pages, native paper, ink and watercolours, the majority of the pages decorated with images of men, women and children, animals, mythical creatures, architectural structures, sheaves of grass or grain, and vases or other receptacles in the upper half of the page, accompanied by explanatory text in Chinese characters, in four character phases, below (significant losses to the lower outer corner of almost every page, resulting in some loss to the text, further wear consistent with heavy use). Soft paper binding, thread-bound.

Provenance:
(1) Monsignor George Carroll, M.M. (1906-1981); Catholic priest, a member of the Maryknoll mission to Korea, who became chaplain of the United Nations Forces in Pyongyang in 1950. A typed provenance note explains: ‘The manuscript is exceedingly rare. Books of this type are jealously guarded by the families who own them since they are the chief source of the family income. This manuscript was given to Monsignor Carroll by an old Korean soothsayer whom he had converted to Christianity’.
(2) Manhattan College, Riverdale, New York; donated by Carroll in 1938, according to the typed provenance note.

Content: Our manuscript allowed the soothsayer to predict fortunes based on the animals of the Zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. Clients asked questions about their future, which the soothsayer would answer by decoding the images and characters on the relevant page. The text beneath the pictures makes reference to the position of the heavens, the sun and the moon; the fortunes fall into two types: fortunate or unhappy.
The text of the present manuscript is in Chinese: fortune-telling books survive in both ‘Hangeul’ – the native script of Korea, introduced during the 15th century – and in Chinese, but Chinese characters continued to enjoy prestige and widespread use until the end of dynastic rule around 1900.
Similar in nature and organisation to our manuscript, although higher in quality, is a 20th-century illustrated fortune-telling manuscript held at Harvard Art Museums (1985.962).

Christies is grateful for the assistance of Beth McKillop in the cataloguing of this lot.
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Brought to you by

Eugenio Donadoni
Eugenio Donadoni Senior Specialist, Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts

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