Materializing Martial Gods: Thunder Ritual, Material Culture, and the Story of Daoism in Ming China
1: Straddling Realms Sacred and Secular: The Visualization and Reception of Martial Gods in Wu Wei's Picture of Quelling Demons
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 316B
Sun Yat-Sen University, United States
Focusing on a handscroll entitled Picture of Quelling Demons after Li Gonglin, painted in 1496 by the eminent court painter Wu Wei (1459-1508), this paper reveals the multifaceted meaning of Thunder martial gods and their reception in Ming China, an overlooked cultural sphere where religion and arts intersect. Over six meters long, its monochrome ink brushstrokes depict a Thunder Troop descending from the sky. The painter’s colophon dedicates it to Huang Lin, a member of Nanjing’s Embroidered-Uniform Guard and a prominent art collector in Wu’s circle of friends. The puzzling relationship between the depicted subject and the intended viewer remains unsolved, mainly due to the incomplete information on the surface, separated into two fragments when the handscroll was smuggled out of the Forbidden City by China’s last emperor, Puyi (1906-1967), among other treasures. Drawing on a variety of visual evidence in the first comprehensive study of this handscroll, I will examine the instrumental role played by prototypes from earlier Daoist liturgical paintings in Wu’s visualization of martial gods. During the Ming period, local gods were incorporated into the Daoist tradition, as were works of vernacular literature, such as the Canonization of the Gods (Fengshen yanyi), a legendary tale featured in Wu’s scroll. This paper argues that, featuring ferocious deities with militant attributes that serve the vernacular subject, this scroll was presented to Huang as a commemorative image that echoed his military identity and family honor of the Chenghua Emperor’s (1447-1487) imperial conferment, transcending the religious domain.