ARTH101 Discussion Topic 12: Art and the Spirit

Using this list of online galleries, find a work of art from a culture other than your own that represents a form of spirituality. Explain why you chose the work you did, and how it represents the spirit. You will need to understand the context in which the artwork was made and how it is used within the culture.


Work of Art Chosen: A 1304 painting (possibly part of a scroll) by Gong Kai of a mythological character named Zhong Kui – the Vanquisher of Hugnry Ghosts, Demons and Evil Spirits. (Image URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ZhongKui-by-GongKai.jpg)

I chose this work because it depicts a fascinating mythological figure from Tang China. The painting’s main figure is that of Zhong Kui (鍾馗). Although there are varying versions of the tale (see sources below), he is believed to have the ability to vanquish evil ghosts, spirits, and demons. As a spirit and ghost hunter, Zhong Kui had even served Emperor Xuanzong by catching the small demon who had stolen his imperial consort’s perfume bag. To show his gratitude, the Emperor bestowed posthumous honors for Zhong Kui who then vowed to rid the world of mischievous demons.

The painting itself is a bit of a mystery, as there seems to be very little documentation for it – most likely due to how old it is. We can clearly see the main figure being carried by two skeletal-like figures. Only nobles in China were carried by servants; thus, we can safely assume that this is the figure that had received the posthumous title from the Emperor. here is a small black part animal, part human-like figure in the bottom of the painting; but it is difficult to ascertain whether it is an evil figure looking for trouble or something else. I would assume it to be the former, as an artist epicting Zhong Kui in a painting would most likely want to include an evil entity. As Zhong Kui’s stare is fixed on the servant in back of him rather than on the figure lurking in the foreground, it could be a sign that he isn’t impressed at all by the evil entity and could vanquish it at any moment. I would love to be able to travel back in time and hear Gong Kai’s (the rtist) take on the matter, but will have to settle with my version of the speculation for the time being.

Since the Tang era, Zhong Kui has appeared on numerous paintings and portraits hung on the walls of many homes and other areas to ensure protection against evil entities. If the painting or portrait has been blessed by a Taoist priest, it is believed to be at its most effective in repelling evil ghosts, spirits, and demons. Zhong Kui’s presence is particularly elcome and appreciated during Ghost Month and especially on Ghost Day (based on the lunar calendar) by Buddhists, Taoists, and folk religion believers.

Sources:

  1. The Fascinating Story of Chung Kwei, The Ultimate Catcher and Vanquisher of Hugnry Ghosts, Demons and Evil Spirits https://sanaakosirickylee.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/demoncatcher/
  2. Wikipedia – Zhong Kui https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhong_Kui
  3. Ghosts in Chinese culture (Wikiwand) http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Ghosts_in_Chinese_culture
  4. http://depts.washington.edu/chinaciv/painting/4schfigu.htm#4frekui1

- Dan Fournier, 2016-08-21