Featured image at the top of this post: Gyeonggi Do Bandaji from the National Museum of Korea.
Gyeonggi Do province or Kyonggi Do, where the capital city of Seoul is located, lies in the northern western part of the peninsula. The north, south and eastern part of the province are covered by mountains.
Bandaji chests, some of them belonging to wealthy families, were crafted from prized woods such as Zelkova, elm, and persimmon veneer. The average size was approximately 91cm x 70cm x 45cm.
The front opening section was wide, covering almost half of the chest in some cases.
Metal ornaments were primarily made of iron, but brass hardware, especially in yellow, could also be occasionally found, distinguishing them from Bandaji chests from other regions. The fitting designs were intricate and fine, often featuring intricate lattice cutwork. Lock plates and door fasteners were large, sometimes taking the form of swallowtails. Motifs such as swallowtails, manja (卍), bats, fish, and gourds were used for decorative purposes on various parts of the chest.
Chests of exceptional quality are rare to come by in the present day. If they remain in their original condition with minimal alterations and retain their original fittings, their prices can be quite high.
The term “Gyeonggi-do Bandaji” encompasses a range of chest types, including those from Ganghwa, Namhansanseong, Kaesong (개성), and the Gyeonggi region, which is where Seoul is situated today.
Due to the diversity of styles, it is challenging to attribute a single characteristic to Gyeonggi Bandaji. However, when looking at general features, Gyeonggi Bandaji tends to be taller and boasts larger metalwork plates compared to those from other regions.
The primary material used for brass hinges is in the shape of a gourd, and the fittings often feature prominent animal and plant patterns, making them distinctive features.
As a majority of the royal family and palaces of the Joseon Dynasty were situated in Gyeonggi-do, the Bandaji used in this province is predominantly associated with nobility and wealthy families.
Within the chest, a row of drawers with circular handles is typically incorporated beneath the top panel.
A special mention must be made regarding Bandajis from the Ganghwa area, known as 강화도 in Korean. These are considered the most esteemed among all Bandajis, renowned for their delicate and meticulous craftsmanship. They were primarily produced for the royal courts of the Joseon Dynasty. Cast iron and brass are the primary materials for decoration, often featuring engravings of 亞 and 卍 on the metalwork. Additionally, a single calabash-shaped hinge in the center is a common characteristic.
Today, these chests from the island located to the west of the province are regarded as masterpieces. They were crafted from beautifully grained, thick wood such as zelkova.
These Bandajis were taller in comparison to their width when compared to other chests. The iron fittings were highly elaborate, often covering a significant portion of the front. The metalwork pieces of exceptional quality were typically thick and engraved with various motifs such as the swastika and the Taeguk.
A gourd-shaped pattern was commonly placed in the center, alongside the swallowtail fittings. Consequently, a single chest could have up to five of these fittings securing the front door. The top lock plate exclusively covered the front part of the chest and did not extend to the top, allowing for better utilization of the chest’s upper surface.
Inside the Bandaji, three drawers with circular handles were included to maximize the use of the interior space.
There is a story that tells of excellent craftsmen and blacksmiths, who migrated from Ganghwa-do, which became the capital during the Mongol uprising, continuing to produce these chests into the Joseon Dynasty. Consequently, Bandajis with thick and exquisite iron metalwork were a hallmark of the Ganghwa-do area, where prized zelkova trees were also readily available.
The most distinctive feature of Namhansanseong Bandaji is the presence of bat decorative patterns on most of them, specifically on the front opening door handle plates. Additionally, the front metalwork forms a fan shape. The height of the door and the front board is proportionate (50%), and in some cases, the doors are even larger than the bottom panel, which is a unique characteristic of Bandaji and not found in any other styles.
These chests have an overall tall height and a narrow width. Another prominent feature is the unusually large hinges connecting the door panel and the front panel, which resemble horseshoes, hence earning the nickname “horseshoe” hinges.
All of these distinctive features set Namhansanseong Bandaji apart and make it easily distinguishable from other chest models.
Some rare variations have two levels: a row of small drawers at the top, a row with two doors, and a bottom Bandaji-type opening at the base.
For the metalwork, iron and yellow brass were used, while the pieces are made from beautifully grained zelkova wood, adding to their uniqueness.
During the Joseon dynasty, Kaesong was situated in the northern part of Gyeonggi province.
The primary distinctive features of Bandaji from this region include the extensive use of fine yellow brass for the metalwork. Metalwork occupies a significant portion of the chest’s front surface. Decorative patterns include double cabbage fittings and handle plates, large butterfly plates, gourds, and crucian carp motifs.