Hanging scroll, ink, color, and gold ink on silk
Image: 63 x 45.3 cm (24 13/16 x 17 13/16 in.); Overall: 136.2 x 58.9 cm (53 5/8 x 23 3/16 in.)
Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund and museum purchase from various donors by exchange and Partial Gift of The Honorable Joseph P. Carroll and Roberta Carroll, M.D. 2019.224
As the concept of salvation became increasingly more emphasized in Buddhist schools in medieval East Asia, the gruesome depiction of various hells was given an important role: to promote Buddhist ethics. In the Buddhist infernal otherworld, the Ten Kings of Hell serve as judges of the deceased to determine their fates, including the type and severity of punishment.
Originally part of a set of ten, this hanging scroll depicts the Fourth King of Hell. Accompanied by his secretary, the king with bulging eyes is seated at the center, overseeing how well his verdict is being conducted. On the bottom, sinners are suffering in a giant cauldron filled with boiling water, constantly pierced by a guard’s burning spears. Ready-made Buddhist paintings from China, created in professional workshops in the port city of Ningbo, are believed to be prototypes for this Korean scroll’s grotesque imagery.
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