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Between and Mortarboard

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Comb Chest (Jage Bitjeup)

Accession Number

Comb Chest (Jage Bitjeup)


Artist Nationality
Korean (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
19th century

Medium & Support
wood with mother-of-pearl inlay

11 3/4 in. x 10 13/16 in. x 10 1/8 in. ( 29.8 cm x 27.5 cm x 25.7 cm )

Credit Line
Gift of Bruce and Inta Hasenkamp and Museum purchase made possible by Elder and Mrs. Sang-Yong Nam

Label copy

Although Joseon society was strictly Neo- Confucian and favored a restrained aesthetic, women’s property could be quite decorative. It is often adorned with motifs that were believed to bring good luck, such as auspicious animals, taken from the folk tradition. The motifs on this comb case symbolize the happy union of
a married couple and fecundity, the pairs of animals represent eternal happiness and the bat- shaped handle denotes fertility. Ducks
(bottom right) have long symbolized married couples in Korea and this comb case may have been a wedding gift for a new bride.
Lacquerware inlaid with mother-of-pearl has been one of the quintessential trademarks of Korean art since the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392), though craftworks decorated with inlaid mother- of-pearl rst appeared during the Uni ed Silla period (676–935). 

Subject matter
These elegant pieces decorated with lacquer and mother-of-pearl inlays were part of the personal furniture of a wealthy Korean lady. Due to the strict visual codes in the Joseon period, lavish mother-of-pearl inlays were almost entirely limited to objects for women’s quarters.
Animals and plants associated with conjugal happiness and longevity often appear in pieces for women’s quarters. The handles are in the shape of bats, which were believed to be lucky. The Korean word for bat, pok, is a homonym of the word meaning happiness.

Physical Description
This laquer comb chest with mother-of-pearl inlays has images of phoenixes and their babies, and deer on the top drawer, and tortoises and mandarin ducks on the bottom drawer, each in a pair. The handles are in the shape of bats.

This ornate comb case glitters with the overall decoration of mother-of-pearl inlay. This case was used by women to store toiletries, such as cosmetics, combs, and oiled paper for collecting hair that falls off when combing (toeballang), etc. Four drawers of the case are arranged in three rows. The uppermost tier and lowest tier have one drawer each. These are decorated with auspicious images: mandarin ducks, deer, and turtles. At the second row, two drawers are decorated with hexagon patterns. Techniques such as kkeuneumjil (cutting thin nacre threads and attaching them according to the design) and jureumjil (cutting nacre according to the design with fretsaws, scissors, knives, etc. and attaching the piece to the lacquered surface) were used to render the designs on the front of the drawers. The top, side and back panels are painted with black lacquer, while rails and stiles on the front are painted with red lacquer.

[Korean Collection, University of Michigan Museum of Art (2017) p. 265]

Primary Object Classification
Furniture and Furniture Accessories

Primary Object Type

Additional Object Classification(s)
Wood and Woodcarving

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
chests of drawers
combs (textile working equipment)
inlay (process)
mother of pearl

& Author Notes

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