The inscription lower left reads: ‘By imperial order, directed and supervised by the senior eunuchs of the Directorate of the Imperial Household Service, Shang Yi, Wang Qin, and others’.
To the right corner is the seal Guang yun zhi bao (‘the treasure of Grand Destiny’) and the text ‘Offered on the third day of the eighth month, the fifth year of Jingtai of the Great Ming Dynasty’ . Just three years later he was removed from the throne by his elder brother Tianshun and died while under house arrest just one month later.
The 5ft 2in x 3ft 5in (1.6 x 1.01m) hanging scroll is one of a series of perhaps 36 pictures made to mark the Buddhist Water and Land (shuilu) rites for the salvation of all souls of the dead on land and sea. On the second day of the week-long ceremony, paintings are hung in the inner altar.
Other works from the series are in museum collections (the Musée Guimet in Paris has 11) while others have appeared at auction, including that depicting Four Luohan, sold by Christie’s Hong Kong in 2015 for HK$650,000 (£65,000).
According to an original invoice, Michiels’ painting had been acquired from Amsterdam dealership Kunsthandel Aalderink in 1987 for 15,000 Dutch guilders.
Offered for sale this month with an estimate of €20,000-40,000, it took €210,000 (£178,000).