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The Taoist Pantheon

  Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power (Detail)
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Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power (detail)
Early Qing dynasty, 17th/18th century
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk
160 x 80 cm
White Cloud Monastery (Baiyun Guan), Beijing
cat. no. 67


Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power

Together with the previous painting, the Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasure, this painting formed part of a triptych depicting the Three Purities. It shows the third of the Three Purities, the Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power, or Laozi. The god's identity is indicated by the presence of his defining attribute, a fan with fly-whisk. His divine title was derived from the name of the text attributed to him: the Classic of the Way and Its Power (Daode jing). Since the name Laozi literally means "elder master," he is shown with white hair and an aged face, unlike the other two Celestial Worthies. Laozi also differs from the others in that he played an active role in the development of Chinese civilization, often appearing to reveal divine teachings to humanity.

Here, he sits on a throne in his celestial kingdom, attended by two figures whose lesser stature serves to emphasize his magnificence. The figure on the right is Zhang Daoling, the first Celestial Master and the founder of the Way of the Celestial Masters, which formed the foundation for religious Taoism. Zhang accompanies Laozi because he was supposedly inspired by a vision of the sage master. The other figure may represent Yin Xi, the man to whom Laozi first revealed the Classic of the Way and Its Power. The artist's choice of these two attendants—the most important representatives of Laozi on earth—highlights Laozi's active participation in the human realm.




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