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Third King of the Underworld (Songjae)
Third King of the Underworld (Songjae) , 18th century
Ink and color on silk
60 × 43 1/4 inches (152.4 × 109.9 cm) Mount: 6 feet 3 9/16 inches × 50 1/4 inches (191.9 × 127.6 cm)
Gift of Mrs. W. James Anderson, Mrs. Samuel Bell, Jr., Mrs. Richard Drayton, and Charles T. Ludington, Jr., in memory of their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Townsend Ludington, 1970
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About This Painting

The awe-inspiring figure at the center of this painting is Songje, the third of the ten Buddhist Kings of the Underworld, who sits in judgment of the deceased. He writes his decision on the scroll held by an assistant who is quite different from the one depicted in the sculpture Boy Attendant. At the bottom of the painting, below a line of clouds, are scenes of punishments: one man is imprisoned in a stockade, another is about to be impaled by a demon wielding a halberd, while two figures at the right seem to be trapped in a pit of nails. The vivid liveliness of this portion of the image stands in contrast to the stately dignity of the King of the Underworld, surrounded by his attendants. Such paintings on silk were usually made in sets of ten, one for each of the kings, and were often displayed in the building in Korean temple complexes known as the Hall of the Underworld Courts. The names of the donors and priests of the temple for which this work was made appear in the box at the bottom. Such intimidating representations of the Ten Kings would have been displayed in temples to remind a Buddhist devotee of the horrors of hell and the merciless punishment of sinners. The contradictory expression of the boy attendant perhaps reflects hope and promise for a new life in the hereafter, an important tenet of Korean Buddhist belief.

This object is included in Learning from Asian Art: Korea, a teaching kit developed by the Division of Education and made possible by a grant from the Freeman Foundation of New York and Stowe, Vermont.

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