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How a medieval rebel artist from Korea glorified watermelons and mice

She was named after the patroness of pregnant women and mothers, but Sin Saimdan rebelled all her life against the traditional female role. A magnificent education, which Korean women did not rely on in the Middle Ages, the secret role of the head of the family, spiritual practices, poems and paintings … In South Korea, she is considered a national heroine and decorated with portraits of stamps and banknotes. And glorified her drawings depicting … watermelons and mice.

Sin Saimdan was born in the 16th century in the old and noble family of Pensan Sin, about which legends were composed. The ancestor of this family was considered a marksman, who pleased with his hunting skills the first king of Korea, and the descendants, miraculously, all Koreans named Sin. At birth, Sin Saimdan was called Ying Song.

There were no sons in the family, and the maternal grandmother, herself a very educated and well-read woman, proposed to teach the eldest daughter all the sciences relying on the heir. In the noble circles, mother-side communications were appreciated, Father Ying Song listened to the opinion of the grandmother … and happily agreed. Being a man of outstanding mind, with a broad outlook, a true intellectual of his time – apolitical and free-thinking – he longed to convey to someone his vast store of knowledge. It somehow didn’t grow together with martial arts, but Ying Song studied literature, calligraphy, and painting along with “female arts”. Grandmother actively encouraged all her interests. Most of all, the girl liked to draw, and legends circulate about her early talent, for example, birds tried to peck the insects painted by her. Saimdan is her middle name, given in honor of the ancient ruler of China, who was famous for her wisdom and explored methods of conducting pregnancy, and also, as they would say now, methods of prenatal development of intelligence in children.

In the plots that In Song chose, there was nothing revolutionary or scandalous – insects, flowers and birds … But the execution technique was atypical for a woman. For women’s creativity embroidery was considered acceptable, painting was considered a male affair.

But painting women in medieval Korea is usually not involved.

When Ying Song turned nineteen, she was married to a young military man from an equally glorious family. Since that time, she begins to use mainly her middle name – Saimdan. The change of name was a normal practice for the highly educated nobles of that time. The first years of the marriage were overshadowed by quarrels between the newlyweds and problems in the Saimdan family. Since the relatives saw her as the head of the family, after the death of her father she had to do household chores, make decisions, take care of her mother and sisters.

A young husband (a big age difference between the newlyweds was forbidden), who did not understand at all what kind of woman he got for his wife, started a concubine – he had the right to do so by law, and most wives who did not sufficiently please their husbands simply resigned themselves to the situation . But Sin Saimdan, offended by treason, committed another act, completely inappropriate for women of medieval Koryo. She … retired to the mountain hermitage.

Women were prohibited from practices such as solitary movement over long distances – severe punishment was supposed for this, which often ended in the death of a condemned woman. But Sin Saimdan did not stop it. Fortunately, the authorities did not know about her act, and the husband was shocked by the willpower of his wife, and hastened to make peace with her. After a while, Saimdan returned home, and later her marriage served as a model of fidelity, trust and … raising children.

Art and parenting – Sin has been successful in both of these areas.

Art and parenting – Sin has been successful in both of these areas.

The four sons of Saimdan and her three daughters were raised according to the canons of a royal namesake. One of the daughters and granddaughter of Sin also became famous artists, sons became famous in military affairs, politics, poetry. During his lifetime, Sin Saimdan was revered as a mother who revealed the multifaceted talents of her children. But, while training the heirs, Saimdan did not forget about creativity. A woman who was successful in men’s business was strange, even indecent. But despite the fact that contemporaries did not appreciate Saimdan’s work at first, there was a lot of talk about it. Soon her fame reached the royal court. And King Koryo himself ordered a porcelain service with her drawings.

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