Guan Yu (d. A.D. 219), a warrior of the late Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220) renowned for his valor and faithfulness, was later venerated as a saint in the Daoist pantheon. Elevated to the rank of emperor (di) by the Wanli emperor (r. 1573–1620) of the Ming dynasty, Guandi, as he was thenceforth known, served as a virtual patron saint of the Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty, who erected numerous shrines in his honor throughout China. In this image, Emperor Guan is shown descending from the heavens accompanied by his two attendants. He is identified by an inscription written in gold in the upper right: “Overseer of the Gate, Sage-Emperor Lord Guan.”
The painting, which comes from a set of religious images used in “water and land” (shuilu) rituals, is distinguished by its high level of craftsmanship, intricate detail, and lavish use of mineral pigments. An inscription in the lower right, “Respectfully commissioned by the imperial prince Zhuang,” shows that the painting was the product of the imperial workshop. Judging from its style, it was probably commissioned by the first holder of that title, the powerful Manchu prince Boggodo (1650–1723), whose grandfather Abahai (1592–1643), was the Qing dynasty founder.