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The Getty explores the mystery of Rubens' Korean man

"Man in Korean Costume," by Peter Paul Rubens, c 1617.
Getty Museum
An early 1500s Cheolik, as worn by Rubens' "Korean Man," excavated from a military officer's tomb.
National Folk Museum of Korea

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To most of us, there's nothing mysterious about the Peter Paul Rubens drawing "Man in Korean Costume." It looks like the title says it should look. A Korean-looking man wearing some sort of voluminous Oriental robe.

But if you know your history, you'd say, "Wait a minute! Korea was incredibly isolated in 1617, when Rubens sketched it. How did he know what a Korean man looked like!?"

This is the mystery explored in Looking East: Rubens's Encounter with Asia, at the Getty Center through June 9th, the Getty's first Korean-themed exhibit, and its first collaboration with LA's Korean-American community.

The exhibit includes the famous Rubens' drawing - famous even in Korea, where they have the same questions about it - plus other versions of the work, historic maps and books, and three beautifully preserved pieces of clothing, including the iconic Korean transparent hat - the Banggeon - and a Cheolik like the one in Rubens' drawing.

To find out more, I spoke with Getty curator Stephanie Schrader, who has her own theory about how Rubens came to draw "Man in Korean Costume," and Heeseon Choi, curator of the Korean Cultural Center in Los Angeles.