East Asia, China, later Qing Dynasty, ca. 1800 CE. A magnificent lifesize statue, carved from a single massive piece of wood, depicting one of the ten Yama Kings who oversee the affairs of Diyu, the traditional Chinese underworld. The dramatic figure stands atop a base carved to look like swirling fog, with a lion or fu dog at his feet. He wears an elaborate robe carved with iconographic details, including a large dragon whose body covers much of its front. Underneath the flowing robe, his armored clothing is visible - notably on one leg and one arm. In one hand he holds an axe, and in the other he holds a large shell. His head is adorned with a crown and his flowing hair and beard sweep around his noble face, which also features truly dramatic eyebrows. Size: 11.5" L x 19" W x 72" H (29.2 cm x 48.3 cm x 182.9 cm)
All souls pass through Diyu, which in many folk sources is depicted as being much like actual China, including with a capital city called Youdu ("you" = dark, "du" = capital), but enshrouded in and permeated by darkness. The amount of time spent in Diyu depends on the severity of sins committed in life; each soul is shepherded by the Yama kings in stages through their punishment until they can be reincarnated. This figure likely stood at the entrance to a temple.
Provenance: private Vero Beach, Florida, USA collection; acquired from an old American collection
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The surface shows some wear, notably in the form of fissures along the grain of the wood that have been stabilized and, in one case (the curved elbow) repaired. Pigment is in great condition with some nice craquelure.