This is where you can read the manhwa. https://www.lezhinus.com/en/comic/painter But be aware that this manhwa is a mature Yaoi, which means, it is about homosexuality with explicit scenes. If you want to read more essays, here is the link to the table of contents: https://bebebisous33analyses.wordpress.com/2020/07/04/table-of-contents-painter-of-the-night/
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If you have already read my former analyses, you know that our protagonist Yoon Seungho is associated to the window, because he spends so much time in a room looking at his courtyard through the window. (chapter 35). But what does the window symbolize?
1. The meaning of the window
In order to answer this question, let us take a look at the definition of the window:
It’s an opening in the wall or roof of a building or vehicle, fitted with glass in a frame to admit light or air and allow people to see out.
Since our story takes place in Joseon, there is no glass, only thin paper or an open frame, yet it doesn’t change the definition. It’s an opening… that admits air and light and allows people to see out. Striking is that the window is connected to fresh air and sun therefore we can say that through the view, people can definitely broaden their horizon as they are able to witness what it happening outside.
However, let us not forget that their view is limited. Yoon Seungho can only see what is happening in the courtyard, but not in the servants’ room or in the painter’s room. Therefore we come to the next conclusion, the window can represent a barrier, a hindrance. That’s the reason why f. ex. writer Emily Bronte used the window in that aspect in her novel Wuthering Heights.
The window can even symbolize the boundary between the inner world of a character (room) and the outside. Therefore the room could be seen as the personification of the protagonist embodying his inner thoughts and feelings trapped in his darkness. Hence he is seeking light and air through the window. Consequently, I interpret that Yoon Seungho sitting or standing in front of the window like the following. The room seems to be a prison, it is suffocating for Yoon Seungho, hence he looks out of the window in order to be able to breathe and survive. He is caught in his darkness, yet the window allows him to escape from his dungeon, from his past. His passivity reflects his resignation, he is already thinking that nothing exciting in his life will ever happen, until he met the painter. That’s why he said in the chapter 18:
From the moment he met the low-born, he started acting differently. First he kept touching the painter and then he even started leaving the room behind and came to the door. It is interesting that in chapter 7, Yoon Seungho even followed the younger painter, after the latter had heard about the arrival of his admired teacher. Notice how the lord stands in the courtyard and looks at the welcome of the low noble.
This picture reflects the social hierarchy. Yoon Seungho stands at the top, and the teacher is closer to him. However, if you pay attention to Jung In-Hun’s gesture, he is turning his body in order to face the powerful noble. It was as if he was pushing away the young artist. Now, you realize that such a single picture can contain so much symbolism. But now let’s return to our main topic, the meaning of the room and the window.
So the room with the window represented the situation of the powerful lord at the beginning (chapter 5) and it is still there at the end of season 1. (chapter 44). It looks like there wasn’t much progression, yet this time, the painter walks towards his mansion and remains by his side. This is important, because I realized that with the vanishing of the learned sir, Yoon Seungho chose to remain in the lord‘s bedchamber. What caught my attention is that the lord always went to the courtyard because of the admired sir. We have two chapters for this interpretation: chapter 7 and chapter 35 . What caught my attention is that when the lord visited the scholar for the first time, both were sitting in front of a door which looked like a window at the same time. (Chapter 7) This is not random at all, as from my perspective, it introduces the role played by Jung In-Hun in the main lead‘s life. He will be the one forcing the lord to move away from the window so that he can leave the bedchamber. Thus we had this scene: Yoon Seungho is observing the learned sir and his student from far away. (Chapter 19) This explicates too why the noble remained so passive in season 2 in the end. Baek Na-Kyum was the lord‘s love interest, hence his „place“ is the bedchamber. So how can the lord move away from the window and as such from the bedroom? Jung In-Hun is the trigger. And note that only in season 2, we discovered how the learned sir used walks through the countryside to console the painter. (Chapter 70) Finally, the main lead organized a hunt for the first time because of his honored guest. (Chapter 22) And if you recall the lord‘s behavior, you will notice that he left the city for the first time, when he wanted to meet the scholar. (Chapter 6) He encountered him in the woods. Under this new light, it reinforces my conviction that the learned sir‘s death will be the lord‘s motivation to become proactive and leave his past behind. Why? It is because of the painter‘s words. (Chapter 94) The painter still respects the scholar, but he already loves Yoon Seungho. He is not disloyal towards his former teacher despite falling in love with the protagonist. With the last incident, Yoon Seungho got aware how much the painter means to him, but at the same time, he realized the importance of the learned sir in Baek Na-Kyum‘s life. He needs to answer his question: (Chapter 102) And this question is strongly connected to the scholar, for the main lead was first sent to Jung In-Hun‘s home. ( 100) Don‘t forget that the main lead saw the room covered in blood, though the latter had already dried. To conclude, the main lead was encouraged to walk thanks to the scholar, and as such to leave his window! (Chapter 100)
Therefore it is not surprising why Yoon Seungho remained in front of the window at the end of season 1. He no longer needed to seek him out and bid him farewell. (Chapter 44) It was the painter’s role. This signified that he was still trapped by his past and trauma, something that he hadn’t revealed to anyone. Since Yoon Seungho is still inside the room smoking in front of the window, it reveals that the lord had not really let go of his past at all, he had not expressed himself in front of Baek Na-Kyum yet. If he reveals his inner feelings and thoughts, this means he will disclose his secret and unveil his vulnerability. This explains why there was no confession from the noble’s side for instance [there were other reasons why he hadn’t confessed anything too], why he was still not sharing his inner thoughts and emotions to his partner.
First, he has never opened up to anyone before. Trust is needed and the artist needs to win that trust, because so far, Baek Na-Kyum had always pushed the noble away. There was still a gap between Baek Na-Kyum and the lord, hence the former didn‘t go to his room, but to his own study. My prediction was that Baek Na-Kyum had to open up first so that the lord could learn from him. And it became a reality. The reason was that the seme was very inexperienced, for no one had ever confided to him. Moreover, he had long internalized that weaknesses must be hidden. Unconsciously, he had already claimed Baek Na-Kyum as his bride, nonetheless this indicated that there was still this distance, this invisible wall between them. We have to understand that Yoon Seungho had never learnt how to share pain and express emotions verbally to others. He had to hide his secret, his past and trauma. (Chapter 37)
The shaking hand with the fist embodies his repressed inner feelings and thoughts. He had learned to keep everything to himself. Now, you are probably thinking that all this is not entirely new because I already mentioned his passivity. And now, you can grasp the origins of Yoon Seungho‘s silence and inactivity. This stroll through the mountain corresponds to his true revival. (Chapter 102) This signifies that Yoon Seungho will act differently in season 4: he will be proactive. Like I mentioned in the essay „Scandal(s) in Jemulpo“, he will become the scholar’s disciple and follow his footsteps: ruthless, but also caring and gentle. The only difference is that his affection for the painter is genuine.
2. Baek Na-Kyum‘s symbol: the door
However, I needed to describe this again in order to contrast Yoon Seungho’s position with the painter’s situation. What caught my attention is that Baek Na-Kyum is connected to the door, unlike the main lead. We have so many scenes where the low-born is seen close to a door or stands on the doorstep. This is what I could gather so far (I still might have missed some):
Now, you realize the importance of the door. But what does it mean? Why is Baek Na-Kyum related to the door? First, the window and the door have two common denominators: the room and the limited view to the outside world. However, since a door connects the outside with the inside, it allows to move. The person can leave the room behind, the painter has more possibilities, while with the window the person inside must feel more trapped.
Since I already pointed out that the room embodies the lord’s inner world, we have to imagine that for Baek Na-Kyum it is the same. However, the room represents something else: his unconscious, his hidden true personality and desires and not his past and trauma, like Yoon Seungho. That’s the reason why the room is not a prison like in Yoon Seungho’s case but rather a secret. The painter is hiding his secret behind the door. And now, you can understand the true signification of the door for the artist. The door embodies the doorstep where Baek Na-Kyum has to admit his homosexuality. Now, if we look back at the different situations where the door was seen. Byeondock even drew many pictures of the door in the same chapter underlining the significance and the true meaning of the door.
Now, I’ll interpret different scenes with the door which caught my eye. Little by little I am adding more and more images with the door. And this is what I found so far. I examined the following scenes: 8, 9, 10, 16, 20, 29, 35, 41 and 44.
When we look at the chapter 8, we have this situation. The young man is about to enter the lord’s chamber standing in front of the door. He has been asked by the lord to go there so that he can paint another erotic picture.
Here, the artist is opening the door. It was as if he was entering a forbidden world, where sex and homosexuality are indulged, where people enjoy their sexuality to the fullest. By entering this room, Baek Na-Kyum is reminded of his own repressed and natural desires. Then in chapter 9,
he leaves the lord’s chamber in a hurry after witnessing a sex session. Right behind the door, he can’t help himself and starts masturbating. Hidden behind the door, he feels his sexual urge growing and starts right away with his masturbation. Since he is touching himself so close to the door separating his room from Yoon Seungho’s room, it outlines that he has trouble to control his repressed sexual desires. His unconscious is urging him to become sexually active again. On the other hand, he ensures that the lord doesn’t see his erection demonstrating that he is still denying his own sexual orientation and attraction. On the other hand, the lord heard him which led him to the following conclusions: Baek Na-Kyum is somehow attracted to him and he has some experience with men as he shows no hesitation to masturbate very quickly. So the door served as a protection, he wanted to keep his sexual desires hidden from the noble. Notice how horrible he feels after his ejaculation. He is burying his face as if he was avoiding reality and his own sexual desires. He still wants to deny these urges.
Then chapter 10, the pavilion could be perceived as the unconscious hidden behind the painter’s body. (Chapter 10) Since the pavilion is open aired, it looks like there is nothing there… it was as if the true sexual orientation of the low-born didn’t exist but since there is a roof with beams, we can conclude that Jung In-Hun’s attempt to eradicate his true sexuality has in reality failed. There are rest of it. In other words, the pavilion mirrors Baek Na-Kyum’s denial and brainwashing through Jung In-Hun. This also explicates why Jung In-Hun used here emotional and cognitive techniques as a warning here. He was coercing him to drop the painting.
Then in chapter 16,
Yoon Seungho catches the low-born, because he wants him to experience sex. He has noticed the reluctance hence he just masturbates the young man. Striking is that the door is opened at some point by a servant. This opening of the door by someone else embodies the fear of being discovered. Baek Na-Kyum is determined to never reveal his repressed sexual desires. Consequently he wants the door to stay closed. So if he is seen then, he fears that his sexual orientation will be discovered, yet he wants it to remain a secret. Now, you can understand the meaning of the door in chapter 37. It is still the same. Despite getting a blowjob, he still wants to hide his homosexuality to the outside. Hence he still gets scared and would like the noble to stop from exciting him. So for the first time, he is experiencing sex with someone.
Here, the door is wide open and this coincides with the commoner’s confession. The young man was drunk, yet he was hiding behind the door until it got opened by the lord. So Baek Na-Kyum’s unconscious wanted to reveal his repressed sexual desires (homosexuality) and his love to the outside world.
In chapter 29, the low noble is bringing him back to the mansion. Striking is that the door is completely open too. This picture illustrates the role played by Jung In-Hun in the painter’s homosexuality. He is the one who “forces” to become an official sodomite, therefore he can no longer hide his sexual preference behind a closed door. I believe that this is related to this incident. Note the opened door. The learned sir caught him by surprise. That’s how the learned sir was forced to repress and hide his homosexuality. This is no coincidence that in season 1, the scholar had the opposite attitude. By feigning ignorance, he actually encouraged the artist to become a sodomite. After their return to the mansion, the teacher showed leniency. He accepted that his student would paint erotic paintings, but he was well aware of their sexual encounter. (Chapter 30) The moment he arrives back and the lord brings him back to his chamber, the nature of their relationship is no mystery any longer, though painting is used as a justification. (Chapter 29) Striking is the thickness of the wall. This symbolizes a long way for Baek Na-Kyum to admit his sexual orientation. Just because people know, this doesn’t mean that he is acknowledging his homosexuality immediately.
In chapter 34/35, there are three different scenes where the door plays a huge part. I have to say that the last scene was the one that caught my attention in the first place and that’s how I was able to connect the door to Baek Na-Kyum.
The first drawing shows the lord opening the door for Baek Na-Kyum. This signifies that the noble has somehow given up on forcing the painter to admit his homosexuality and his attraction to the lord. That’s the reason why Yoon Seungho spent the entire night thinking over how to convince the low-born to come to his side and become his partner.
However, the sex marathon has not left the young man unaffected. He hides behind the closed door, while his body is shaking and his heart is beating loudly. He eve feels butterflies. For the first time, we see Baek Na-Kyum confronting himself with his repressed feelings… for the first time there is a connection between his thinking and his unconscious. He is somehow admitting that the lord’s presence has left an impact on him. However, with his body he is making sure that no one will ever find out this secret. He is still denying his homosexuality to the outside world. He wants to keep it a secret, yet he is no longer denying the existence of these feelings.
Then in the same chapter, we see Jung In-Hun abandoning the low-born and he even closes the door in front of him.
This single action has so many significations. First, it visualizes the rejection of the teacher. He cuts ties with him. It also shows that Jung In-Hun is well aware of what happened 10 days before. It reveals his selfishness as he shows no concern. In fact, it was as if the low noble was pushing him back. It was as if Baek Na-Kyum was pressured to become a homosexual even without admitting it. The teacher is forcing him to accept his situation but at the same time, he is denying the responsibility. Imagine the hypocrisy of the lord’s action. In reality, he is the one who pushes the painter to sleep with the lord, since he needs a spy. But by closing the door, he ensures that Baek Na-Kyum doesn’t need to admit his own homosexuality. This scene symbolizes the prostitution Jung In-Hun referred later. The teacher wants to use the artist’s sexual orientation for his own needs and simultaneously he doesn’t need to require this from the painter. As a conclusion, Jung In-Hun is now pushing the low-born to become a homosexual without revealing it to the outside world. At the same time, he acts as if he has no idea what is happening to the commoner. That way, Baek Na-Kyum can never reproach him to have used him as a prostitute or to be a hypocrite.
Then in chapter 41, we see a certain progression. The door has been opened by Yoon Seungho but Baek Na-Kyum doesn’t care any longer. Since he is begging the lord to be held, he is finally admitting his true desires. He likes being embraced by a man. This marks a pivotal moment in Baek Na-Kyum’s life. And this explains why the door is wide opened at the end.
Baek Na-Kyum is no longer hiding his true sexual orientation. He is facing the world without being embarrassed. He waited for Jung In-Hun, hoping that the young man would still accept him, but he experienced rejection. He was literally left behind. However, his acceptance of his own sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily mean that he loves Yoon Seungho. In the beginning of season 2, he viewed himself as a prostitute. (Chapter 45) He just accepted him as his sexual partner, hence he went to his room and not to the lord’s side in chapter 44. If we compare their respective situation. Yoon Seungho hadn’t progressed much compared to the painter at the end of season 1, because he needed to express his emotions and reveal his secrets and vulnerabilities to Baek Na-Kyum. It took him a long time to open up, as he had been coerced to view himself as a bird of misfortune. He didn’t dare to voice any wish out of fear that these wishes would get ruined. (Chapter 96) In his mind, he had no right to voice any desire, as they would be perceived as GREED! (Chapter 96)
But like I had written above, the low-born was in a better position right from the start. He had more freedom, while for Yoon Seungho the room is indeed a prison. Under this new approach, it becomes comprehensible how the main lead could leave the window and as such the darkness of his nightmare. Because of the painter, Yoon Seungho met Jung In-Hun, and the latter made him feel superior, but also jealous. That’s how his attention got diverted from the window making him discover the existence of the door! We could say that the painter as the butterfly led the poor protagonist to the door, and thanks to his mind, Yoon Seungho could release Baek Na-Kyum from his cage, as his mind was also trapped by social norms. And this sexual emancipation could only take place in the bedchamber. This explicates why the artist’s liberation was the first step for the lord’s liberation. But by opening the door for the painter, Yoon Seungho could free himself. Therefore it is not surprising that the painter‘s final confession took place in front of a closed door, (chapter 96) and Heena could hear his words. Hence at the end, the door got broken: (chapter 96) This represented the final emancipation of the artist. He no longer cared, if he was seen. He was so moved that he didn‘t pay to his surroundings. (Chapter 96), while it was not the case for the noble. The latter knew about the artist‘s shyness. This truly shows that Heena was responsible for the sexual oppression of her brother. The painter was no longer hiding his affection for the main lead, when he decided to wait for his master‘s return in the bedchamber. (Chapter 98) Observe that the artist was going there on his own will, and he was sharing his bed with his husband.
3. Heena and the opened door
How did the scholar discover that Baek Na-Kyum was painting erotic paintings of sodomy? (Chapter 1) This memory was from the learned sir. Why was he approaching the painter during the day? Secondly, note that he only scolded the artist in his house! (Chapter 34) So he had discovered a secret, he imagined that the painter had assisted to an immoral love session. (chapter 6) In my opinion, the kisaeng was responsible for this incident. We have a clue for this interpretation: (Chapter 94) The noona is the one standing in front of the opened door with her donsaeng. Here, the artist was getting embarrassed and humiliated. That‘s how little by little, the artist associated the closed door to shame and safety. This is not surprising that the kisaeng is also standing behind the closed door, when she hears her brother making love to the main lead. (Chapter 96) In addition, she is constantly seen in connection with an opened door, but this opened door is linked to anxieties, pain, shame and guilt: (chapter 68) (chapter 66) (chapter 88) I have the impression that she was acting out of jealousy, and she had intended to tarnish her brother‘s reputation.
And this leads to my final words. In my first version, I had expressed the following thoughts:
„Does it mean that the lord needs to leave the mansion behind in order to liberate himself from his suffering? If so, then we have two possibilities. Either he gives up his title and everything for the painter or he decides to move to the capital and helps the artist to develop his career and even starts meddling in politics.“
And look at the progression of the story. Yoon Seungho did leave the mansion behind and went to the mountain with the painter in his arms. (Chapter 102) This symbolized the final emancipation of Yoon Seungho. He could finally move on from his past, and as such leave the darkness of his mental prison. He no longer needs a window to view life. This scene announced that he was starting living again. Thus I am expecting to see Yoon Seungho becoming more proactive and funny in season 4. He will show his intelligence and strength in order to defeat his enemies because so far, he never revealed his qualities to others, only to the scholar. His past had left him somehow paralyzed, hence he has laid a low profile. In his past, he believed that his prison was his protection, for he could observe and remain quite wealthy and powerful. For me, Baek Na-Kyum is in reality his strength, the reason why he will be able to leave his cage and shows his true colors and skills.
4. The true form of Jung In-Hun
But if the window symbolizes Yoon Seungho and Baek Na-Kyum the door, what is representing the teacher? In my opinion the open air. He is mostly seen outside.
(chapter 7) (chapter 10)(chapter 19) (chapter 29) (Chapter 22) (chapter 35) He often strolls through the courtyard. Therefore I would say that the air embodies him so perfectly. He is seen with his nose in the air
which shows his arrogance. Simultaneously, he gives himself airs. How can he be touched by this low-born? The picture shows both aspects. Then in the chapter 6, he is just hot air (this expression means empty talk in order to impress) , when he says that he was the one who taught how to read to the painter. Here, he tries to present himself as a good teacher to Yoon Seungho. Furthermore, he is overestimating his own skills and he is definitely daydreaming which is connected to the expression “castles in the air”. His aspirations are boundless, he is aiming at the highest position without being competent or even trying to improve himself. He also attempts to air dirty laundry, when he is hunting with Yoon Seungho. He wants to force the lord to admit his lie so that he can criticize him. But here he fails. As you can observe, many expressions with air reflect his personality. However, there is one scene that contrasts to this observation, that’s when he is in his library in the chapter 40. We actually see him at the library in two occasions:
chapter 7 and 40. However only the scene in the chapter 40 is memorable. Therefore I would say that he is linked to two spaces: open air and closed room like the library. It seems strange that Jung In-Hun is linked to a world with no boundary and the opposite, a closed room. Actually, it is quite simple. The outside signifies that he is actually empty and superficial behind his smile. He is so fake hence he has no real personality. Besides, since there is no limit, then it can also signify that he has no conscience as he knows no boundary. Furthermore, it also illustrates that he has no past and no trauma too. Finally, it also indicates that he will never change, there will be no transformation and as such no progression. Air remains air. Yet he only shows his true thoughts in a closed door in the chapter 40. His words there are suffocating the poor boy, that’s the reason why Baek Na-Kyum is left speechless. (Chapter 40) He can’t breathe properly. Since there is no view and no door to the outside visible in the drawing, we have to imagine this reflects his narrow-mindedness. He is surrounded by books (see the pictures from the chapter 7) therefore he lacks real experience and knowledge. He is literally buried behind his books, therefore his knowledge is superficial. (Chapter 27) Even in his bedroom there are books so his own bedchamber gives the readers a suffocating feeling. Since there is no window visible in his room and the library, there is no fresh air in the closed room which explains why it is asphyxiating. Usually, we say in a closed room that it smells musty. He only knows the world through his books and the moral standards. He is not even opened to the outside, only his words and thoughts count. Everything else has no value hence there is no life next to him. People living by his side will end up suffocated as he doesn’t allow them to breathe. He is stubborn and he will never change, a fake, empty and narrow-minded man with no conscience. Because of this connection, I realized that Jung In-Hun had no future in Hanyang. He would end up buried, and this became a reality. Because the moment he left for the capital, he ended up dead. And now, if you think carefully, you will recognize that the learned sir is associated to nature! Thus he was seen in the woods (chapter 6, 22) or in the countryside admiring the moon. (Chapter 70) Air means also breathing! Hence he represents the fresh air entering Yoon Seungho‘s bedroom, hence we had such a scene: (chapter 35) The lord witnessed the intimate interaction between the learned sir and the artist, thus he was incited to leave the bedroom. Strangely, we could say that he was the initiator for the lord‘s liberation. No wonder, why Kim wished to get rid of the learned sir in the end, and just viewed the artist as less annoying and evil!
So the moment he left the domain, the admired sir was confronted by reality. His stay in the mansion had made him dream (Chapter 18) so that he ended up letting his guard down. He was not so competent and intelligent like Yoon Seungho, he relied more on the stupidity on others. He could deceive commoners, but not spies. In my first version, I had envisioned that the learned sir had many tricks up his sleeves so he would survive, but I had not realized that he had met a fake servant (chapter 37) definitely a noble who could see through him. For me, it was the pedophile himself. I had predicted that he would disappear into thin air, and it became a reality, especially if my theory about his assassination is correct. We could see the transformation of the scholar into a ghost, (chapter 50) who would come to haunt the couple because of his resent. (Chapter 98) As the air, he became a spirit! And note that the lord was encouraged to stroll too!
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