Art/ Collection/ Art Object

明 佚名 北斗中斗本命星君衆圖 軸
Star Deities of the Northern and Central Dippers

Unidentified Artist Chinese, active mid-15th century
Ming dynasty (1368–1644), Jingtai period (1450–56)
dated 1454
Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
Image: 54 11/16 x 30 9/16 in. (138.9 x 77.6 cm) Overall with mounting: 104 5/8 x 38 in. (265.7 x 96.5 cm) Overall with knobs: 104 5/8 x 42 1/8 in. (265.7 x 107 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Oscar L. Tang Family, 2012
Accession Number:
Not on view
This depiction of Daoist deities was once part of a set of paintings used in the Buddhist water-and-land ritual and commissioned by the emperor, as attested to by the inscription in the lower left: "By imperial order, directed and supervised by the senior eunuchs of the Directorate of the Imperial Household Service, Shang Yi, Wang Qin, and others." The identity of the deities is given in a second inscription, written in gold, along the right-hand margin: "Portrait of the Northern Dipper, Central Dipper, and Root Destiny Star Lords."

According to the scholar Shawn Eichman, there are five "dipper" constellations in Daoist astronomy, with the Central Dipper as the leader and the Northern Dipper responsible for removing names from the records of death. In this depiction, the seven star gods of the Central Dipper are shown in the lower register wearing regal robes and crowns, while the nine stars of the Northern Dipper, including two hidden stars, wear less formal robes and occupy the middle register. Eichman identifies the small figure with two attendants at the upper right as the Root Destiny Officer, who descends to earth to accept offerings on the cyclical anniversary of each person's birth (see Stephen Little with Shawn Eichman, Taoism and the Arts of China [Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2000], p. 248).
Inscription: Inscription (lower left corner): Eunuchs of the Directorate of the Imperial Household Service Shang Yi, Wang Qin, and the others supervised the production [of this painting] by imperial order 御用監太監尚義王勤等奉命提督監造

Dated (center of painting’s upper border): Executed on the third day of the eighth month in the fifth year of the Jingtai era of the great Ming dynasty (1454) 大明景泰五年八月初三日施

Seal: (unknown collector; impressed over the dated inscription): Guangyun zhi bao 廣運之寳
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