The Tenth King of Hell
Joseon dynasty (1392–1910)
Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
Image: 46 x 36 in. (116.8 x 91.4 cm)
Overall with mounting: 70 x 41 in. (177.8 x 104.1 cm)
Overall with knobs: 70 x 44 in. (177.8 x 111.8 cm)
Purchase, Parnassus Foundation/Jane and Raphael Bernstein Gift, and Mary and James G. Wallach Foundation Gift, 2007
Not on view
In the Buddhist world, the Ten Kings of Hell serve as judges of the deceased to determine their fate, including the type and severity of punishment and the course of their cycle of rebirth. This painting depicts the Tenth King of Hell in the standard guise of a warrior, and originally formed part of a set of ten scrolls (six of which are now in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Seated prominently in the center, the king is surrounded by a retinue of attendants and significant figures of the underworld, including messengers, judges, and wardens. At the top right corner, tiny figures float on a rainbowlike stream (a symbol of the six paths of rebirth) emanating from a double-headed beastly figure (representing the Evil Spirit) at the lower right. The dead, receiving punishments for their transgressions, populate the lower half of the painting.
The inscription written in Chinese characters at the top right—第十五道轉輪大王黑暗地獄戊午甲 (Korean: 제십오도전륜대왕흑암지옥무오갑)—may be translated as “The Tenth Great King of the Five Ways and the Right Law, in the darkest hell, painted in the cyclical year muo,” a date that corresponds to 1798.
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