|An official of the Cultural Heritage Administration holds "Angbuilgu" metal sundial returned from the United States at the National Palace Museum of Korea, Tuesday. The sundial, estimated to be produced in the 18th century, is on public view through Dec. 20. Yonhap|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
"Angbuilgu," a hemispherical metal sundial from the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom era, has been returned from the United States, becoming the eighth remaining antique time-keeping device in Korea.
The sundial was put up for auction in the U.S. earlier this year and the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation, an affiliate of the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA), purchased it in June, bringing it to Korea in August.
The foundation collected information about the sundial in January and conducted research on it, including a scientific analysis and comparison with other metal sundials in Korea. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the auction, originally scheduled for March, was postponed a few times to June, but the foundation was able to purchase it.
According to U.S. auction house Skinner, the silver-inlaid bronze sundial was sold for $336,500 (approximately 400 million won as of June).
The returned sundial is believed to have been produced between the 18th and early 19th centuries. It is estimated to be created after 1713, as it describes Seoul's latitude as "37 degrees 39 minutes 15 seconds," as appeared in Joseon's astronomical book "Gukjoyeoksanggo."
It measures 24.1 centimeters in diameter and 11.7 centimeters in height, and weighs about 4.5 kilograms. The sundial is mounted on a four-legged support, with each leg decorated with a dragon and cloud design.
"The use of elaborate metal casting methods, refined silver inlay decoration, dragon and turtle head designs on the legs, and other features attest to the advanced level of science and artistry measuring seasons and time in Korea at the time, and render it a high-quality work of art produced by skilled artisans," a CHA official said.
The name Angbuilgu comes from Chinese characters meaning looking up at the sun, cauldron, sun and shadow, summarizing its characteristics of telling the time by the shadow cast over its cauldron-shaped body based on the sun's position.
The sundial is an example of the advanced science of the Joseon Kingdom.
The Angbuilgu sundial was the first public timepiece in the Joseon era, dating back to King Sejong (r. 1418-50). According to Confucian norms, it is the king's duty to inform the people of the correct time and solar terms. So King Sejong commissioned metal sundials to be installed in front of Jongmyo Shrine and Hyejeong Bridge located at present-day Jongno 1-ga, so people could know the time.
"This sundial is unique and practical, providing diverse information on solar movement," Chungbuk National University astronomy professor Lee Yong-sam said.
Despite their high value, few scientific instruments from the Joseon period managed to survive and are known today mostly through historical records. Only seven of these large metal Angbuilgu sundials exist in Korea along with three overseas ― one in the U.K and two in Japan.
The Angbuilgu sundial only gives the correct time in Seoul since it is calibrated to the latitude of the Joseon capital, so its return allows the sundial to give accurate time once again.
The sundial will be available for view at the National Place Museum of Korea's Science Culture Gallery through Dec. 20.