Hall of Enma, the King of Hell

Tomioka Tessai 富岡鉄斎 Japanese

Not on view

It is believed that in the afterlife a person must be brought before powerful figures, the so-called Ten Kings of Hell, who conduct trial of sorts, wherein the past deeds of the deceased are tallied up in order to determine the location of the person’s next rebirth. In this characteristically humorous painting by the literati artist Tomioka Tessai, who follows a pattern for images of the Kings of Hell established by Chinese artists in the late twelfth century, the King of Hell sits at a desk wearing a red robe and with a sheet of paper, brush, inkstone, and other writing utensils set out in front of him. Nearby, a ghoul holds up a mirror through which sinners are forced to confront their past misdeeds. In the foreground, demons bearing clubs and other devices of torture accompany the sinner, who in this case, happens to be an art collector. Even in the inferno, the man is frantic about the works he amassed in his lifetime. Tessai’s satirical wink can be read as a comical admonishment against worldly attachments and the craze for collecting art, which may result in a hellish afterlife.

Hall of Enma, the King of Hell, Tomioka Tessai 富岡鉄斎 (Japanese, 1836–1924), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, Japan

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