Star deities of the northern and central dippers

Unidentified artist

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).

Star deities of the northern and central dippers, Unidentified artist  , mid-15th century, Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, China

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