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Portland Art Museum announces exhibition and repatriation of Korean Buddhist painting
Korea, unknown artist, Five Buddhas, 1725, ink and mineral pigments on hemp, Songgwangsa Temple; conserved by Robert and Sandra Mattielli.

PORTLAND, ORE.- The Portland Art Museum announces an exhibition, symposium, and repatriation of a sacred Korean icon. Five Buddhas: A Korean Icon’s Journey through Time tells the story of a stolen painting—its discovery, restoration, travel to Oregon, and return to the Korean people.

Oregonian Robert Mattielli lived in Seoul for three decades, during which time he often visited the cluster of antique shops in Mary’s Alley (Anguk-dong). He purchased a tattered and folded Five Buddhas painting in the early 1970s, a time when many temples were refurbishing their worship halls, and Buddhist paintings often appeared on the market. The painting was conserved by a well-known Korean restorer and framed as it is seen today. When Mattielli and his wife, Sandra, moved back to Oregon in 1985, the Five Buddhas traveled with them.

In 2014, the Mattiellis approached the Museum about donating the Five Buddhas—just in time for the painting to be examined by a team of visiting scholars from the Korean National Research Institute for Cultural Heritage (NRICH). Several months later, NRICH reported their discovery that the Five Buddhas painting, dating to 1725, was originally part of a suite of paintings that adorned a small chapel at Songgwangsa, a famous Son (Japanese, Zen) monastery located in the mountains in the southwestern part of Korea. The painting disappeared sometime in the early 1970s. When informed of news, the Mattiellis immediately offered to repatriate the painting to Korea.

Recognizing the unique opportunity to display the painting and educate visitors about issues surrounding ownership and repatriation of stolen and sacred works of art, the Museum offered to present Five Buddhas as a special exhibition and to present a corresponding symposium that will take place on December 3, 2016. Dr. Robert Buswell, who is widely recognized as the premier scholar of Korean Buddhism of his generation, will speak on “Songgwangsa and its Significance in the Korean Buddhist Tradition.” Professor Buswell spent five years meditating at Songgwangsa before beginning his academic career, and his first book examined Zen practice at the monastery. Today he holds the Irving and Jean Stone Endowed Chair in Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he is also distinguished professor of Buddhist Studies and director of the Center for Buddhist Studies. Professor Maya Stiller of the University of Kansas will focus on the ritual context of the Five Buddhas in her talk on “Repentance for the Living and the Dead: The Avataṃsaka Compound at Songgwangsa.”

“The Portland Art Museum is honored to help facilitate the return of this important work of art to Korea,” remarked Brian Ferriso, Portland Art Museum Executive Director. “We are grateful for the guidance and support we have received from the Korean Cultural Heritage Administration for helping us mount an important exhibition about Five Buddhas. Special recognition must also be given to and Sandra and Robert Mattiellis for their ongoing generosity. Their gifts to the Museum will continue to benefit our community for generations as they help us present the beautiful art of Korea.”

The Museum is grateful for the Korean Cultural Heritage Association for sponsoring this project, and to the Mildred Schnitzer Memorial Lecture Fund for co-sponsoring the symposium.

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