The first two characters, Heshuo, from the inscription is a Manchu term for a prince. From the inscription, these paintings were commissioned by the first Prince Zhuang (1650-1723) of the Qing dynasty who is identified as one of the great-grandsons of Nurhachi, the founder of the Qing dynasty. Prince Zhuang's Manchu name was Boggodo, and his father Shuo Sai was a brother of Emperor Shunzi (1644-1661).
According to the inscription, Nanfang Zengchang Zuntian, the figure is identified as Virudhaka, Guardian of the South. As one of the guardian kings of the four cardinal points, Virudhaka is an important deity in the Buddhist pantheon who is believed to be a protector of the Buddhist law and possessed the power to increase man's kindness. The other deity depicted on the other painting is Qianda Pozuntian, Gandharva or Celestial Musician. Gandharva is one of the spirits of the Gandha-madana (Incense Mountains); the Gandharvas are so called because they do not drink wine or eat meat, but feed on incense and give off fragrant odours. As celestial musicians of the paradise of Indra, they are well known in the Vedic pantheon. Gandharvas are in the retinue of Dhrtarastra, the guardian king who governs the East and presides over the Spring. Dhrtarastra is associated with soma, the moon, and with medicine.
The present paintings belong to a group of drawings from the Shuilu, 'Water and Land', pantheon and were placed on temple walls for specific Buddhist Shuilu rituals. These rituals were prayers offered to the deities of the Shuilu; and were recited in expectation of the deliverance of mortal creatures of land and water, including those of the living and the souls of the deceased, enter the wheel of reincarnation, and thereby achieving Nirvana. The Shuilu rituals found popularity during the Yuan period, and prevailed into the Ming and early Qing dynasties. From the style and composition of these paintings, early Qing depictions followed closely to those of earlier Ming period. A set of 139 hanging scrolls dated 1460 from the Baoning Temple, Youyu County, Shanxi province, and now in the Shanxi Provincial Museum, is discussed by R. L. Thorpe, Son of Heaven: Imperial Arts of China, Seattle, 1988, pp. 119-23, nos. 53-7. Cf. two related Ming works sold in these Rooms, 6 November 1997, lot 1077, depicting five standing Guanyin; and 3 November 1998, lot 1034, of five figures of Buddha.
Compare to the other paintings from the same series, the first of 'The Venerable Celestial Naga King of the Ocean', and the other 'The Venerable Celestial Goddess Bodhidruma', included in the exhibition, Chinese Imperial Patronage, Asian Art Gallery, London, pp. 30-31, nos. 5 and 6. Two other paintings, one depicting Da fan wang zu tian, Venerable Celestial King Brahma, and the other, Jianmen yuan miaodao zhenjun, Overseer of the Gate, Perfected Being of the Subtle Way, offered at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 April 2007, lot 865.