This hanging scroll was commissioned by the Wanli emperor in 1596, probably for the use in a (now unknown) ritual context. The painting shows the supreme Daoist god of thunder, Leisheng puhua tianzun 雷聲普化天尊, the Celestial Worthy of the Sound of Thunder Transforming All, also called the Thunder Ancestor, Leizu 雷祖, or the Thunder Worthy, Leizun 雷尊, surrounded by fourteen members of the Thunder Department, Leibu 雷部, over which he presides. The iconography of Puhua tianzun manifest in this picture was established in the Scripture of the Jade Pivot, Yushu jing, from around 1200, which includes a final hymn chanted by the Thunder Master, Hao Weng, who praises the god in terms that are very similar to the features of this image.
The scroll was acquired by Sophus Black (1882–1960), branch manager of the Great Nordic Telegraph Company, who was stationed in China 1902–31, mostly in Beijing, where he acquired many pieces from local "curio dealers." Before his death, Sophus Black donated the scroll to the National Museum of Denmark. The specific contents of the painting were unknown to the museum curators, who labeled it “Daoist gods and demons,” until the figures were identified by the Director of this project in the late 1980s. See subjects depicted.
Ethnographic Collection, National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.