Print Forward   Text size: SmallNormalLarge

Past Exhibits

Supernatural Tales of Gods and Ghosts: Paintings from the Museum Collection
Supernatural Tales of Gods and Ghosts: Paintings from the Museum Collection
  • Dates: 2013/07/01~2013/09/30
  • Gallery: (Northern Branch) Exhibition Area I 202,208,212

Exhibit Info

The concept of gods and ghosts formed with the rise of civilization, originating with the fears and uncertainties about the passing of life. From ancient China, the “Meaning of Sacrifices” chapter of The Book of Rites states, “Human life has both energy and spirit. Energy of the fullest measure is that of the gods. Living beings must die, and in dying must return to the earth; they are called ‘ghosts.’ [Or] the energy of a soul returns to the heavens; this is called a ‘god.’” Thus, it was thought that when people die, they either ascended as virtuous “gods” or returned to the netherworld as evil “ghosts.” Together, these two types of supernatural beings are known as “gods and ghosts” in Chinese.
The belief in gods and ghosts developed in the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties of high antiquity. By the following Qin and Han dynasties, under the influence of religious beliefs, the concept of cultivating spiritual paths to the gods and immortals gradually took root in the minds of people. Then in the Wei, Jin, and Northern and Southern Dynasties period, political turbulence at the time and fragmentation of the country interrupted orderly dynastic succession, giving rise to an increased interest in spiritual and extraordinary aspects. Among the writings of this period, Biographies of Extraordinary Persons describes various strange matters and supernatural phenomena, combining elements of mythology, legend, and real life. Starting in the Tang dynasty, miscellaneous notes and novels containing tales of gods and demons appeared with greater frequency, such as Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang of the Tang dynasty, Extensive Records of Taiping from the Song dynasty, and Journey to the West and Investiture of the Gods from the Ming dynasty. Along with the rising popularity of stories surrounding the Eight Immortals, Hemp Maiden, and others, they came to form part of complex worlds comprising gods and immortals as well as ghosts and monsters.
The painting of gods and ghosts has very early origins in China. In the Warring States period, Han Feizi had already pointed out that ghosts and goblins, being without form, are the easiest to paint. During the Qin and Han dynasties, images of riding on a dragon and ascending the heights became popular, and later in the Tang dynasty, Zhang Yanyuan’s Record of Famous Paintings Through the Ages indicated that gods and ghosts had already become a subject in painting. Wu Daozi, for example, is recorded as having done “Illustrations of the Transformations in Hell” at Jingyun Temple in Chang’an, depicting various scenes of torture suffered by those who descended into hell. After completion, it is said that all who saw the painting trembled with fear. The depiction of the famous catcher of ghosts, Zhong Kui, also traces back to the Tang dynasty, and by the Five Dynasties period even more works of all sorts deal with beseeching auspiciousness and averting evil. By the Ming and Qing dynasties, such popular subjects serving as auspicious metaphors as the Eight Immortals and Three Star Gods (of Happiness, Prosperity, and Longevity) further enriched the depiction of gods and ghosts.
This exhibition of paintings from the National Palace Museum collection not only introduces audiences to such familiar figures as the Eight Immortals, God of Longevity, Picking-Fungus Immortal, and Hemp Maiden, it also presents such gods, immortals, and goblins from literature as the Goddess of the Luo River and Mountain Spirit. Furthermore, by bringing together many works about Zhong Kui and related to his interaction with demons, this exhibit presents to viewers the interesting and supernatural forms of various gods and ghosts.
Previous Page  Home