Master Thunder (Lei Gong)

Artist: Unidentified Artist

Period: Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

Date: dated 1542

Culture: China

Medium: Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk

Dimensions: Image: 38 3/4 x 24 5/8 in. (98.4 x 62.5 cm)
Overall with mounting: 83 x 27 in. (210.8 x 68.6 cm)
Overall with knobs: 83 x 30 5/8 in. (210.8 x 77.8 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Purchase, Bequest of Dorothy Graham Bennett, 1989

Accession Number: 1989.155


According to Daoist scripture, this figure, the Li Star of the Southern Dipper, was granted the honorific title "Master Thunder" (Lei Gong) by the Jade Emperor, who also bestowed upon him a gold ball and chain. He often wears a plaque—seen here hanging across his right shoulder—that describes his merits: "compassionate, loyal, and virtuous." His official duties include protecting people, safeguarding the laws, and dispelling all manner of evil spirits. Accordingly, he is depicted riding on a flaming wheel and subduing a roiling sea of serpents as other Daoist deities offer spiritual reinforcement.

An inscription written in gold at the upper right states that this image was "painted by order of the imperial concubine née Shen at dawn on the first day of the fourth lunar month in the renyin year of the Jiajing era [May 6, 1542]." Executed by an anonymous court artist attached to the inner palace, the painting may have been commissioned for a ceremony that sought to cure the patron of a disease or other affliction.