Ox horn decoration, known as hwagak, was unique to Korea and mainly used for sewing boxes, small chests, and clothes boxes of high-born women. Each panel is a self-contained scene of propitious images: the paired dragon and phoenix are emblems of masculinity and femininity; the deer, crane and tortoise symbolize long life; and birds, flowers, and butterflies signify marital bliss.

The laborious and time-consuming hwagak technique requires a horn to be soaked or steamed with water, flattened, separated into thin layers, cut into uniform rectangles, painted on the reverse side, and glued to a wooden frame with the painted side facing inward. Finally, the outer surface was polished to a brilliant luster. The finished work shows us an exuberant view of the Chosŏn woman’s world.
Artist Korean
  • Box with Design of Auspicious Symbols
Date early 20th century
Medium ink and paint on ox horn panels on wood, ray skin, and metal
Dimensions Overall: 10 1/4 × 20 3/4 × 12 1/4 inches (26 × 52.7 × 31.1 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, New Endowment Fund and funds from the Korean Community
Accession Number 1986.3
Department Asian Art
Not On View
(Klaus F. Naumann);
1986-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)