An intricate, bright red funeral bier with multiple levels, on display outside. It is decorated with painted colorful patterns, various wooden kokdu figurines of deities on each level, and is shaded by a red, white and blue celestial drape.

The VRC just added over 150 images of Korean funerary figurines from the Kokdu Museum's collection of more than 20,000 pieces. A central part of Korea's traditional funeral ceremony during the Joseon Dynasty, these painted wooden figurines known as kokdu, were placed on and around the ornate funeral biers used to transport the dead to their burial sites. Depicting anthropomorphic, humanistic figures alongside other-worldy, mythical creatures [such as goblins, dragons and phoenix], kokdu were created not only to accompany, assist and console the soul of the deceased in their transition into the afterlife, but also to bring solace to the mourners.

When looking at the collection on SVA Image Library (MDID)*, you will notice that there are four different categories of kokdu based on their function or supporting role: guides, assisting travelers on their journey to the other side; caregivers, meant to nurture the soul; entertainers, bringing joy to both the deceased and bereaved; and guards, protecting the deceased along the way, warding off evil spirits. Learn more about this rich Korean cultural heritage here.

*To find the collection, simply click the "Search" button under "Resources" on the left of the screen, select the "School of Visual Arts- Visual Resources Collection" and type "Kokdu" into the search bar.

Wooden kokdu figurine of a female "caregiver" holding a flower.A carved and painted wooden board depicting a dragon, which Koreans placed at the front and the back of the coffin frame to act as a guardian for the deceased.
TOP IMAGE: Anonymous. Funeral Bier (Sangyeo), n.d. Joseon Period. Paint, wood, metal, cotton, silk; 453 x 200 x 252 cm. Collection Kokdu Museum, Seoul, South Korea.

BELOW IMAGES (L to R): Anonymous. Woman Holding a Flower (The Caregiver), ca. Mid-20th c. Paint on wood, carving; 12.6 x 1 x 31.8 cm. Collection Kokdu Museum, Seoul, South Korea. Anonymous. Dragon Board, ca. Early 20th c. Paint on wood, carving; 50 x 3 x 31.9 cm. Collection Kokdu Museum, Seoul, South Korea. Anonymous. King of Hell Riding a Mythical Animal (The Guard), ca.18th-19th c. Paint on wood, carving; 20.7 x 5.7 x 29.8 cm. Collection Kokdu Museum, Seoul, South Korea. Anonymous. Masked Exorcist with Sword, ca. Mid-20th c. Paint on wood, carving; 94 x 3 x 84.5 cm. Collection Kokdu Museum, Seoul, South Korea.