Presumed Portrait of Korea's Last Empress Discovered

      July 25, 2006 20:35

      Another picture thought to show Korea's last Empress Myeongseong, also known as Queen Min, has been made public. There have been several portraits and photographs people thought depicted the empress, but each has eventually been swept away in controversy over their authenticity, leaving the appearance of the assassinated queen an unsolved mystery.

      Over the last 22 years, Terry Bennett (56) has been collecting photographs from 19th century Korea, Japan and China. On Monday, he published a photo album of some of the 2,600 pieces of Korea-related materials in his collection, taken by a German photographer who traveled by way of China to the Korean Peninsula, where he took 33 pictures between 1894 and 1895, immediately preceding the incursion of Japanese assassins to Gyeongbok Palace to murder the empress. One of the pictures in this portfolio is thought to show Myeongseong.

      Clockwise from top left, pictures of Emperors Gojong and Sunjong, possibly Empress Myeongseong, regent Heungseon, included in an album by a German photographer who visited Korea between 1984 and 1985, released by English collector Terry Bennett. /Yonhap

      Bennett obtained the photographs from an antique bookseller three years ago. An expert on East Asia during the late Chosun period, he recognized that he might have a picture of the empress on his hands. The album arranges four pictures on each page. On the page in question, the picture on the left shows Emperor Gojong and his second son, later the Emperor Sunjong, on the right is a woman thought to be Empress Myeongseong, and at the bottom are two pictures of the empress' father-in-law, regent Heungseon.

      A picture of Emperor Sunjong and a picture presumed to be Empress Myeongseong, included in an album by a German photographer who visited Korea between 1984 and 1985, released by English collector Terry Bennett. /Yonhap

      The caption to the picture reads, "Die Ermordete Königin" meaning "the assassinated queen." The picture of regent Heungseon beneath appears to have been taken at the same spot.

      To determine if the face in the picture is truly that of the last empress, the photographer and background will have to be investigated, comparing the image with all the impressions of the empress that exist. That will require a concerted effort from academics. "If the picture in question is real, the fact that it is placed next to that of Emperor Gojong and regent Heungseon, and that the background is the same as the picture of the regent are points that need looking into -- it’s very interesting," said Seoul National University historian Prof. Lee Tae-jin. "We'll have to secure that picture from Bennett, and try to get to the bottom of this."

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