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Shaka and the Dragon

Kawanabe Kyōsai (Japanese, 1831–1889)

Period:
Meiji period (1868–1912)
Date:
19th century
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
Album leaf; ink and color on silk
Dimensions:
14 1/2 x 11 in. (36.8 x 27.9 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Charles Stewart Smith Collection, Gift of Mrs. Charles Stewart Smith, Charles Stewart Smith Jr., and Howard Caswell Smith, in memory of Charles Stewart Smith, 1914
Accession Number:
14.76.61.51
  • Description

    This scene probably depicts an episode from the life of Shaka (Skt: Sakyamuni), the historical Buddha, the attack of the demon king Mara. Shaka Buddha was able however, to defeat Mara and his army and thus attain enlightenment. Some pictorial elements modify the conventional iconography: a flaming dragon replaces the demonic human figure usually representing Mara; a rock cave stands in for the bodhi tree as a place of contemplation; and Buddha's hand is in the prayer gesture. Traditional pictorial elements for representing the historical Buddha in this 19th century painting are the tuft between Buddha's brows (urna) and the cranial bump on his head (usnisa). This complex presentation of Buddha's enlightenment contains elements familiar from other Buddhist iconic representations, for instance, the outdoor settings of Buddha Descending the Mountain (Shussan Shaka) or of Rakan, who is often represented as is Shaka in this album leaf, with a dragon.

    The painter, Kyōsai was one of the few Meiji painters whose paintings were collected and appreciated in the West. The powerful subject matter of this painting contrasts with the refined execution of very fine gold on silk.

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    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
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