Yanluo Wang - the Chinese God of Death

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Yanluo, King of Hell is a glazed stoneware sculpture that engraves the god of death and the sovereign of the underworld, and this muscular figure with clenched fists and hair rising in anger. Chinese artist master Ma made this powerful sculpture in 1523, Ming dynasty in Chinese history and it is now a part the George Crofts Collection at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, ON. In Yanluo, King of Hell, master Ma uses contrast colours, texture, and lines to build the sacred and divine image, and the detailed gesture and expression mould the type of civilization in order to emphasize Yanluo’s powerful position in Chinese God and Ghost culture.

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The picture below is the sculpture Yanluo, King of Hell.

Its gesture catches my eyes at the first sign. The exquisite technics of this artwork is telling us viewers the story of this character. Distinctly, as a symbol of death, compare to the image of Death in western world, Yanluo is more colourful. Typically in other civilization, the represented words, black, horror, and gloomy stand out for Death. However in Yanluo, the sculpture expresses the muscular image with green top and red robe jointed in green pants. The lines of the garment make it looks like silk and satins, which are kind of expensive fabric in the older period of China, there, it shows the high status of Yanluo. In addition, the shape of sleeves are gracefully floating in the air, which is Yanluo’s symbol of god.

While look at Yanluo itself, it is skin tone, and the artist carefully to sculpt every inch of its skin. The lines of muscles on the chest, legs and forearms, the insteps and toes are very detailed as well. These details of muscles are showing that Yanluo is strong and powerful. Besides, by looking close to Yanluo’s face, the expression is angry, its mouth opens widely by showing the scaring canine teeth, it’s glaring with eyeballs protruded and eyebrows knit in a frown. Moreover, Yanluo’s hair are rising in anger. Combining with its gesture, the clenched fists and legs opened wide in a pose, comes out with an angry feeling obviously. The reason why Yanluo expresses anger, I think it regards to its position. As a King of Hell, Yanluo is taking charge of all ghosts in hell, which means it has to be an majestic and strict character, in order to frighten those ghosts.

Otherwise, the accessaries on Yanluo’s head, wrists and ankles are significant too. The bracelets and foot loops are symbols of a god and the supernatural power. According to the time and place this work was created, the history of this type of sculpture in Shanxi Province of China. This kind of coloured sculptures have unique features. The advantages of coloured glazed stoneware are much more free than wood, stone and pottery, thus greatly increasing the authenticity and vividness of the artistic image. The clothing movement especially increases the possibility and diversity. And if the conditions are good, as long as no artificial damage, the preservation time is not lower than wood, stone, pottery. Therefore, not only the ancient tradition should be valued, even if modernity has its special vitality, as long as we look at the museum until now.

In the meantime, I find out the treatment of the stomach is very special. The belly of the gantry is bloating. As I know, in Chinese tradition, it emphasizes the incomparable power of abdominal movement. Here is a description of the power that is unique to China. We have always regarded force and “qi” as one thing, and force is produced through “qi”. Therefore, the Chinese have always used the term ‘pneumatic strength’ or ‘strength’ to form the word ‘strength’. We have always said ‘this is very manpower’, ‘the strength is very small’ and so on. This kind of performance is rare in the stone carvings before Tang Dynasty, but it is not uncommon in the art of painting after Tang.

Also, Yanluo, King of Hell is a sculpture of Ming dynasty. The outstanding differences in character, the conciseness and exaggeration of the style, the rigor and accuracy of the basic structure are the best in the Ming Dynasty sculptures, the basic shapes are clear and simple, and the muscle changes in the various parts of the face are extremely rich. Therefore, the artists who made these artworks had unbelievable skills and artistic aesthetics. The shapes of the work, that ancient master is not based on the laws of anatomy. He worked according to the rules of artistic modelling, so he was extremely free in styling, relying on artistic feelings. This is the reason why the artwork is vivid and not as a scientific dogma.

From all the above in conclusion, like Yanluo, King of Hell, it is colourful and exquisite. The contrast green and red, the texture and lines are so strong and capture the characteristics of this god. The gesture and expression make a powerful feeling of itself and strongly impressed audiences as well. This is the result of the art of glazed stoneware sculpture has reached a very sophisticated. Also, Yanluo brings us into the traditional Chinese god and ghost culture, by looking at it, this artwork left a huge space of imagination for us.

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