Panel, Taoist Immortals, wood / porcelain, maker unknown, China, early Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
This kind of horizontal screen is called "Hanging Screen" in China, which appeared from early Qing (1644-1911) dynasty. However, in earlier time, since the reigns of Jiajing, Longqing, and Wanli in the Ming (1368-1644) dynasty, the handicraft of engraving porcelain insets into stationeries and furniture already appeared, but the insets are mostly the blue-and-white porcelain. The screens made in Ming dynasty are a larger size and more functional than for ornamental purposes. The emergence of hanging screen was during the early Qing dynasty and became prevalent in the Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns, especially in the Imperial palace. Hung on the wall for pure aesthetic purposes in stead of paintings, they have lacquer surface and porcelain/scrimshaw insets and often appeared in pairs or groups, depicting calligraphies, landscapes and figures.
The Eight Immortals, which is called Ba Xian (Eight Saints) in China, is a group of legendary immortals in Chinese Taoist mythology. Since the Tang dynasty (618-907), it began to have the legend of the Eight Immortals. However, it was not until the mid Ming dynasty that the eight figures were fixed as Han Zhongli, Zhang Guolao, Han Xiangzi, Tieguai Li, Lü Dongbin, He Xian'gu, Lan Caihe, and Xiaoxiang Zi in Wu Yuantai's novel "The East Advanture". Each of the eight saints carries a special power tool.
In Chinese culture, the Eight Immortals are considered to be signs of prosperity and longevity, so it is a popular theme in traditional art. The eight figures were frequent adornments on celadon vases, and appeared in sculptures owned by the nobility. Their most common appearance, however, was in paintings. Many silk paintings, wall murals, and wood block prints remain of the Eight Immortals. The figures were often depicted either together in a group, or alone to give homage to that specific immortal. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Eight Immortals are very frequently associated with other prominent spiritual deities in artwork, such as the Three Stars (Fu Lu Shou: Good Fortune (Fu), Prosperity (Lu), and Longevity (Shou)) and Xi Wangmu (Queen Mother of the West), who are commonly seen in the company of the Eight Immortals.