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Figure of Yanluo, King of Hell
Earthenware; glaze
Centimetres: 83.5 (height), 78 (width)
Dated by inscription to 1523 AD.
Late Empire II; Ming Dynasty; Jiajing
Area of Origin: China; Asia
Area of Use: Changzhi, reportedly; Shanxi, reportedly; China; Asia
Gallery of Chinese Architecture
The George Crofts Collection

Description: A concept of hell somewhat like the Catholic purgatory existed in India, and is thought to have come to China with Buddhist missionaries and traders beginning in Eastern Han times. Based on the late Tang Sutra of the Ten Kings, a Daoist hell cult was codified in the ninth and tenth centuries AD. Later developments represented a fusion of Buddhist and Daoist beliefs, as did the sect of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, though on a considerably higher plane. Hell was taken up in religion and art of both Buddhists, who conceived of eighteen hells, and Daoists, who had ten. The rulers of the hells were the generals of Yama, or Yanluo Wang in Chinese, a reincarnation of a king of ancient Vaishali in India. Yama commanded an army of demons, often animal-headed, and his realm is represented in painted and sculpted scenes from the legendary work of the great eighth-century Tang painter Wu Daozi to the Tiger Balm Gardens of present day Hong Kong. Visual depictions of hell were generally more for instruction than for the delight of the literati. Some Chinese paintings of demons, Japanese painted hell scrolls, and sculptures like this Yanluo Wang do achieve the status of art, however, so vivid is their depiction of the intricacies and eccentrics of damnation. This figure's muscular arms and legs form a powerful diagonal. With square face, no neck, bony and hard-nippled chest, and clenched fists, Yanluo Wang is the essence of wrath. His hair rises with anger and his face drips green sweat.


Murowchick, Robert E., editor (1994), China: Ancient Culture, Modern Land. Cradles of Civilization series. Weldon Russell, North Sydney, Australia, p. 128.

Royal Ontario Museum, Far Eastern Department (1992), Homage to Heaven Homage to Earth, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, pl. 113. Staff of the Far Eastern Department (1972), Chinese Art in the Royal Ontario Museum, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, no. 116. Trubner, Henry (1968), The Far Eastern Collection, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, no.68. Heinrich, Theodore A. (1963), Art Treasures in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, pp. 62-63. The Detroit Institute of Arts (1952), The Arts of the Ming Dynasty, Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, no. 212.

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