Xi Wang Mu’s Banquet

Immortals' Feast on Yo-ji Pond (Joseon, 19th century) by Sim, Sa-jeongGyeonggi Province Museum

Yojiyeondo as a Genre 

Taoists believed in the existence of the land of immortals, a paradise or utopic land where there is no aging and death. Mentions of the mythical Mount Kunlun, in which Xi Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West - the highest deity of Taoism - was believed to dwell, are often found in literature from the Tang Dynasty on. Starting in the Yuan Dynasty, Yojiyeondo (Yaochi yan tu: ‘Banquet at Yaochi’), which are paintings depicting the banquet held in Mount Kunlun, the abode of Xi Wang Mu, were widely produced. One of the magical tales surrounding Mount Kunlun has it that eating fruits from the peach trees in Xi Wang Mu’s orchard, which ripen every three thousand years, grants eternal youth and longevity. In Korea, given the existence of a portrait of Xi Wang Mu on a mural inside the Goguryeo tomb, Gamsinchong, this Taoist deity must have been known no later than the Three Kingdoms period. 

Yojiyeondo of Gyeonggi Province Museum

The painting represents the scene of the banquet at the pond named “Yoji” (Yaochi) in Mount Kunlun, the abode of Xi Wang Mu, to which King Mu of Zhou was invited. Elements depicted in this painting, such as the peach tree bearing fruits every three thousand years, immortals attending the banquet and the phoenix at the yard are all symbols of immortality and longevity, and also the seals of the Taoist paradise. In the center of the painting, corresponding to the fourth and fifth panels of the folding screen, are Xi Wang Mu, the hostess presiding over the banquet, and King Mu, the guest of honor. The first and second panels contain the lively depiction of immortals heading toward the banquet site. This painting in a panoramic composition was realized using a coloring technique consisting mainly of green and blue. The resulting image is sumptuous, and intricate details are finely expressed. Yojiyeondo being one of the folding screen themes that were most beloved in the royal palace, it could be interesting to ponder its relationship with other court painting genres like Sipjangsaengdo [Ten Symbols of Longevity]. 

Old Man of the South Pole
Suseong noin or the Old Man of the South Pole (Namgeuk noin or Namgeuk seonong) is a folk deity symbolizing longevity. He is oftentimes depicted as an old man of short stature who is slightly stooped, with a bald head and a long beard. A high, protruding forehead is also a recognizable feature of this deity. The eyebrows and beard are painted white, and the posture is bent to indicate his great old age.

Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu, although a historical figure, has been integrated into Taoism as one of its deities. He enjoys the most elevated status in the Taoist pantheon as ‘Taesang nogun’ (Taishang laojun in Chinese, literally meaning ‘Grand Supreme Elderly Lord’). In paintings, Lao Tzu is always depicted riding an ox. In this painting, Lao Tzu is one of the very few deities shown traveling to the banquet site on a ground route, rather than through the air or sea.

Eight Immortals
The Eight Immortals are the eight most popular deities in the Taoist pantheon; namely, Yi Cheol-goe (Li Tieguai), Jong Li-gwon (Zhongli Quan), Jang Gwa-ro (Zhang Guolao), Ha Seon-go (He Xiangu), Nam Chae-hwa (Lan Caihe), Yeo Dong-bin (Lu Dongbin), Han Sang-ja (Han Xiangzi) and Jo Guk-gu (Cao Guoxiu). In this painting, the Eight Immortals are shown together crossing the sea to head to the banquet site.

Peach Tree
The peach tree is the foremost symbol of the Taoist abode of immortals.

Xi Wang Mu
Xi Wang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West, is in magnificent attire and appears alluring. She is flanked by several women on her left and right, who appear to be immortals and have their eyes cast toward various different directions. Some are shown to be looking at the immortals on the waves, and some others gaze towards women playing musical instruments or dancing; which admirably translates the leisurely pace of a banquet.

King Mu of Zhou

Eight Swift Horses
The eight horses with which King Mu of Zhou traveled are depicted along with the carriage.

Credits: Story

Director | Junkwon Kim
Exhibition planning | Ji-in Yoo, Gyeongbo Sim
Project support | PR & Marketing team, Gyeonggi Cultural Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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