ink, color and gilt on silk
painting alone: 44 x 22.375 in (111.8 x 56.8 cm)
with mounting: 54.375 x 30.375 in (138.1 x 77.2 cm)
The central figure in this very rare Korean Daoist painting is most likely the Daoist Official of Heaven, Tianguan 天官, the first of the Three Officials (Sanguan 三官) and the one whose role it is to confer blessings (天官賜福). Dressed in Daoist robes and with long hair tied up in a knot and covered by a “Daoist cap” (道冠), the Official of Heaven is represented as a high ranking or even imperial figure, which accords well with his role in the administration of the destinies of human beings (located in the Big Dipper), for which reason Tianguan is commonly portrayed, as seen here, with the Seven Stars of the Dipper.
This painting may originally have been part of a set of three paintings depicting all of the Three Officials (Sanguan): the Official of Heaven (Tianguan), the Official of Earth (Diguan, pardoner of sins), and the Official of Water (Shuiguan, dispeller of disasters). Or, it may have been part of a larger set depicting an entire pantheon, of the sort commonly referred to as "Water and Land Ritual" paintings. If the latter, it could have been made in a Buddhist context, since these pantheons, while made for a Buddhist ritual, usually included an entire host of different deities, including many of Daoist origin.
Identification and contributions by:
Poul Andersen; Associate Professor of Chinese Religions, University of Hawaii; Director of the Daoist Iconography Project, and Shawn Eichman, Curator of Asian Art, Honolulu Academy of Arts