T  A  O  I  S  M    A  N  D    T  H  E    A  R  T  S    O  F    C  H  I  N  A


The Taoist Pantheon

  Taoist Deity of Water (Detail)
  Larger ViewLargest View

Traditionally attributed to Wu Daozi (active 8th century)
Taoist Official of Water (detail)
Southern Song dynasty, first half of 12th century
Hanging scroll; ink, colors, and gold on silk
125.5 x 55.9 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Special Chinese and Japanese Fund
cat. no. 71


Taoist Official of Water

This is the final painting of the Southern Song triptych depicting the Three Officials. (The first two are the Taoist Official of Heaven and Taoist Official of Earth.) In it, the Official of Water travels through the rough waves of a churning ocean. He rides on a dragon, a traditional symbol of rain, while two attendants ride on sea turtles. Because of their unusual longevity, these turtles represented long life and divinity. The Official of Water is further accompanied by several energetic figures, many of whom are wearing armor and carrying weapons. These details emphasize the god's role as a judge, surrounded by those who can enforce his will. In the bottom right of the painting, the roofs of submerged palace buildings can be seen. These may represent either the palace of the underwater Dragon King or the dwelling of the Official of Water himself. In the sky above the ocean is the Duke of Thunder, a winged, animal-headed god surrounded by a circle of giant drums, which his servants strike to create thunder.

The dark, wet ink used to paint the clouds around the Duke of Thunder, paired with the vigorous movement of the waves, suggest that the sky and ocean are about to burst into a violent storm. This concern for atmosphere is characteristic of the best Song-dynasty landscape painting.




Exhibition Themes

View Works
of Art


Map of China


Calendar of
Related Events

Lesson Plans


Books and Links


Evaluation Form