THE TEN COURTS OF THE KINGS OF HELL
Sheet size ( 36 x 20 in, 915 x 510 mm ) 23pp. ten copperplate etchings on 300gsm Somerset textured paper with interleaving pages, a title page, colophon page
and introduction page typeset in Perpetua on 160gsm Fabriano Ingres 701 Gialetto.
Housed in a Black lacquer box decorated with Vietnamese symbols for Happiness, Prosperity and Longevity in Gold on Red. In an edition of 50. The names of each individual King and his Court are printed on the interleaving page adjacent to the image. Underneath appears an oblique extract from the Inferno, volume one of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, decorated with ornamental wood-type and symbols of oriental Buddhist prayer.
A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF A MORAL ALLEGORY
One early spring morning in March 1997, on my first visit to the Far East I found myself wandering through the ornate and impressive colonial building on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street that has become the Museum of Fine Art in Hanoi, Vietnam. I walked through large rooms filled with lacquer statues of Buddhas and heroic paintings of the victorious North Vietnamese Army marching through the jungles down what was formerly known as the Ho Chi Minh trail, the colours of gold and red predominant. I entered another large room where I was confronted by a row of ten images framed closely together and collectively entitled The Ten Courts of the Kings of Hell. I was immediately struck, drawn in by the labyrinthine depth of these austere and cruel paintings. Lacquer painted on wood, they had been executed 300 years previously in Ha Tay province bordering Hanoi.
The paintings had the same format; a long, thin, vertical rectangle, a traditional Chinese visual devise used for both perspective and storytelling. Scenes from the work of Hieronymus Bosch held obvious comparisons, however these paintings were oriental in form and content: a different cultural narrative, both exotically alien and curiously familiar. These images depict the law of causality, one side of a fundamental Buddhist concept, the Circle of Life.
The universal resonance of these moral allegories led me to make comparisons with other descriptions of Hell. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri proved to be a compelling source of insight. Oblique quotes from The Inferno are printed next to ornaments of Buddhist symbolism on the interleaving pages that complete the folio. The combination of these grandiose decorations with lurid prose provides an affidavit of uncanny synchronicity and the shade of Virgilian guidance to through light upon each circle.