Shin Saimdang Biography

Shin Saimdang (October 29, 1504 – May 17, 1551) was a Korean artist, writer, calligraphist, noted poet, and the mother of the Korean Confucian scholar Yulgok. Often held up as a model of Confucian ideals, her respectful nickname was Eojin Eomeoni ("Wise Mother"). Her real name was Yinsun. Her pennames were Saimdang, Inimdang and Imsajae.


Shin Saimdang was born and raised in Gangneung at the home of her maternal grandparents. Her father, Shin Myeonggwa (申命和) was a government official but did not actively join politics. Her mother was Lady Lee, the daughter of Lee Sa-on (李思溫). Shin had four younger sisters. Her maternal grandfather taught his granddaughter as he would do a grandson, and being raised in that atmosphere, Shin Saimdang received an education that was not common in that period. Besides literature and poetry, she was adept at calligraphy, embroidery and painting.
As she was raised in a son-less household, she spent much time at her parents' house even after her marriage to Commander Yi Won-su (李元秀) at the age of 19, with her husband's consent. She accompanied her husband to his official posts in Seoul and rural towns, gave birth to Yi I in Gangneung, but suddenly died after moving to the Pyongan region at the age of 48.

Saimdang was able to cultivate her talents thanks to an unconventional household and understanding husband, in a rigid Confucian society. Having had no brothers, she received an education that would have only been bequeathed to a son, and this background greatly influenced the way she educated her children.


Shin Saimdang's artwork is known for their delicate beauty; insects, flowers, butterflies, orchids, grapes, fish and landscapes were favorite themes. Approximately 40 paintings of ink and stonepaint colors remain, although many others are assumed to exist.

Unfortunately, not much of her calligraphy is left but her style was greatly praised in her time, with high-ranking officials and connoisseurs writing records of her work. The scholar Eo Sukgwon, at the time of Myeongjong, mentioned in his book Paegwan Japgi ("The Storyteller's Miscellany") that Saimdang's paintings of grapes and landscapes compared to those of the notable artist Ahn Gyeon. Far later, in 1868, the governor of Gangneung remarked upon seeing Saimdang's work that "Saimdang's calligraphy is thoughtfully written, with nobility and elegance, serenity and purity, filled with the lady's virtue".