12. Buddha Dainichi Nyorai
Muromachi period 15th century
Wood, gilding, and smoked patina, iron jewelry
In Japan, Buddha Dainichi Nyorai is worshipped as the supreme, primordial sun Buddha. In the principle mandala for ritual activity and contemplation in Shingon Buddhism, Dainichi Nyorai appears in the centre and embodies reason and wisdom. As opposed to the ‘revealed teaching’, understandable to the intellect of the common man, the ‘concealed teaching’ (mikkyō) of esoteric Buddhism offers enlightenment on earth to the initiate, through ritual practice and the contemplation of sacred images. According to Kūkai, the founder of the Shingon school of esoteric Buddhism in the early ninth century, this profound and mysterious teaching is difficult to manifest with brush and ink, and accordingly revealed in the form of sculptural images.
This form of Dainichi is known as Taizokai and is identified by the gesture of concentration, hokkai join mudra, where the hands are held in the lap with palms facing upward and the thumbs touching each other. An inscription on the lotus throne confirms this sculpture as the principle image a Shingon sect temple. The survival of dedicatory cards inside the body cavity, still present some 500 years after the sculpture was made, is remarkable (röntgen photo’s available). The cards are probably inscribed with the names of donors, the date of dedication and the name of the sculptor.
The Buddha is carved and assembled in yose-zukuru (joined block) construction with inlaid crystal eyes and finished in gold lacquer. His hair is arranged in a high chignon and fastened with an ornament and a crown. Ornaments include a necklace of jeweled garlands, bracelets and wristlets. An urna marks the centre of his forehead, and the fabric of his pleated robe incorporates a variety of folds. The Buddha is seated in a cross-legged posture on a beautiful circular lotusthrone with numerous finely defined large leaves, a large nimbus with pearls, a pagoda, characters, flowers and curly patters framing the back.
The characteristics of this Buddha with clearly articulated hands, and an elegantly draped robe, are typical of the Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573). With its youthful face, half-closed eyes, and superbly folded drapery, the sculpture conveys meditative calm and serenity. Noteworthy are the perfection in volume and line, a superb carving placing this Buddha among the finest known examples.
Carbon 14 test:
The results of a carbon 14 test (no. IHME 2077 05270313) are consistent with the dating of the present sculpture.
Private collection, Germany.
J. Mayuyama, Japanese Art in the West, Tokyo, 1966, fig. 48.
G. Gabbert, Buddhistische Plastik aus Japan und China, Köln, 1972, figs. 29 & 50.
R.Y. Lefebvre d’Argencé and D. Turner, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in The Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1974, pp. 410-411, fig. 218.
Exhibition catalogue The Buddhist Icons of Kamakura : Realism and Exoticism, Kamakura, 2014, fig. 25.