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Mountain Spirit

19th century, Korea

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Ink and Mineral Color on Silk
36 x 27 in
framed: 29.5 x 33.5

Of the many subjects found in Korean religious folk paintings, the Mountain Spirit, or Sansin, is the most popular. In this 19th-century painting, the Spirit of the Mountain is depicted as an old bearded sage accompanied by a mountain tiger. The sage wears the red robe and a headdress of a Daoist, holds a banana leaf fan and reclines under an aged pine tree. In the background awaits Sansin’s attendant, an immortal youth, who is recognizable by his double topknots and bowl of immortal peaches.

An indigenous Korean deity rooted in the native Korean religion of Shamanism, Sansin was worshiped in festivals as far back as the Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935 AD). Within its original Shamanist context, Sansin first represented abundance and fertility, but as the deity was incorporated into Korean Buddhism, it became known as the patron spirit of newborns and was thought to protect infants from misfortune. Most Korean Buddhist temples have a shrine dedicated to the Mountain Spirit.

*description of a mountain spirit painting adapted from "Auspicious Spirits: Korean Folk Paintings and Related Objects", exhibition catalogue by Robert Moes, © 1983, International Exhibitions Foundation, Washington, D. C.

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