Taoist Paintings

800 years ago the Yao Hilltribe lived in the mountains near Shanghai but, as the Han Chinese needed more territory the Yao have been gradually pushed westward to Laos and the remote hill regions of Thailand. Each time a new treaty was made with the Chinese, the Yao people packed up their homes, their customs and their gods and moved to ever more isolated areas. So while the Taoist religion in the rest of China was influenced by outside forces, the Yao people managed to keep their 12th century Taoism relatively intact.

Central to the Yao religion are sets of ceremonial paintings that are considered to be the actual abode of the Immortal or Guardian figure that is represented. A complete set of 24 paintings contains the entire Yao pantheon and is essential for presiding over rituals of purification and the righting of wrongs. All Yao men are ordained at around the age of 17 and are entitled to perform some rituals but without ownership of a set of paintings one will never go further in the spiritual hierarchy.

The paintings are stone or vegetable colors on mulberry paper and consecrated with candlelight and chicken blood before the gods are invited into their new home. Then, when the paintings are considered too old, usually after about 100 years, the gods are politely invited to leave and they can be sold. The ones we have are from a set painted during the Ching Dynasty, Tao Kuang period, 1821-1851.

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1. Liaison Officers of The Governers of this World and the Waters. Mid-19th century. 22 1/2" high, 11 1/2" wide. Triple layered mulberry (or "rice") paper with stone and vegetable colors. SOLD.
2. Marshal Teng. Mid-19th century. 45" (114 cm.) high, 21" (53 cm.) wide The presence of the Marshals is essential for the performance of any major ritual. They are the guardians of the family altar and their duty is to bar the way to demons and unclean influences. Marshal Teng is a Thunder God from the Department of Thunder and Storms. He has a monkey's head and Garuda's wings and at his feet stand the two warriors Marshal Hsin and Marshal K'ang. SOLD.
3. The Ancestors. Mid-19th century. 41" high, 21" wide. This is a painting of the whold assembly of the Taoist gods and Celestial Worthies, executed in the typical Chinese tradition. ON HOLD.
4. The Forebears. Mid-19th century. 45" (114 cm.) high, 21" (53 cm.) wide This painting shows the immediate forebears of the family who commissioned the series; each forebear is identified by a caption bearing his or her name. The picture shows both the ancestors of the family and the gods associated with the life of the family. Among others we can find Yama, riding a dragon, and the Lord of the Red Gown, riding a horse. ON HOLD.

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