Wei To, Temple Guardian, Ming Period, 17th Century, 52" x 58" (including frame), Embroidery on Silk
This beautiful portrait of Wei To, guardian spirit of Buddhist temples, was given in 2000 by James A. Thomas' daughter, Eleanor Elliott, and her husband, John Elliott Jr., for display in the Thomas Reading Room. Wei To is embroidered in silk floss in a satin stitch technique and couched with gold wrapped thread and peacock feather filaments. He is shown in full ceremonial armor, holding a cudgel (short, heavy club) to defeat the enemies of the Buddhist Law. This portrait dates from the seventeenth century and was reapplied to a new ground silk in the eighteenth century. Wei To, Guardian of Buddhist Dharma or Law, guarded the entrance of every Buddhist Temple. His image is always situated facing the main altar of the temple, with his back to the main entrance of he principle temple hall. As stated above, he is dressed in ceremonial armor, and his robes are decorated with dragons, which are embroidered in a typical late Ming style. Wei To is regarded as a ferocious guardian of Buddhist doctrine. His image is thought to scare off evil spirits and is also believed to help maintain discipline among the monks. A common belief is that a monk who has broken his vows will fall sick after passing the image of Wei To. So powerful in fact is Wei To that his image is always placed facing a peaceful or serene Buddha upon the main altar, who calms the guardian’s temper.
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