Visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), are invited to watch as the Asian Conservation Studio restores a 12-foot portrait of the mythological demon queller Marshal Xin, a “Thunder General,” dating back to China’s Ming dynasty and on view to the public for the first time. Marshal Xin was an impressive figure in Daoism, the popular belief system in imperial China, with powers to control ghosts and spirits, summon thunder and rain, and avert evil. The MFA’s 16th-century portrait may have once hung in a county government temple for use in ceremonies to protect all local citizens.
The six-month conservation treatment involves completely dismantling and reassembling the entire work—a complicated construction in which the painting and mount form an inseparable unit, unlike most Western paintings and their frames. Conservators will also restore the painted image and original silk support. At times, visitors will be able to observe the elaborate process unfold, as well as interact with conservators at work.
The hanging scroll will be surrounded by about 20 other works depicting demons and demon quellers, including an important 15th-century Chinese handscroll featuring the deity Erlang and his army battling mountain demons who have taken the form of beautiful women, as well as a Korean painting that shows demons tormenting sinners in the Buddhist hells. Japanese demonology will be represented with an assortment of paintings and prints that includes the 19th-century hanging scroll Night Procession of the Hundred Demons. Additionally, Mr. Sea (2014) by Beijing-based artist Geng Xue will be screened in the gallery, showcasing how traditional tales of demons and ghosts continue to influence contemporary culture. The animated film, featuring blue-and-white porcelain figures, recreates a supernatural adventure from Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, a famous 18th-century collection of ghost stories.
Presented with support from the Roger and Dawn Nordblom Fund for Chinese Paintings in Honor of Marjorie C. Nordblom, The June N. and John C. Robinson Fund for Chinese Paintings in Honor of Marjorie C. Nordblom, and the Joel Alvord and Lisa Schmid Alvord Fund.