Gilt bronze with incised decoration; H. 13 5/8 in. (34.6 cm), W. 7 1/8 in. (18.1 cm), D. 3 9/16 in. (9 cm)
The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.268.155)
The combinatory nature of Japanese religious life is evident in the icons and practices associated with the deity Zaō Gongen, the abiding spirit of Mount Kinpu, in the Yoshino Mountains south of Nara. Zaō is the protective deity of Shugendō, a Shinto-Buddhist cult devoted to ascetic practices and mountain worship. Images of him are based on guardians of the Buddhist pantheon known as the Kings of Brightness (Myōō). This finely cast image of Zaō Gongen shown in a demon-quelling aspect expresses the fervor of his cult in the latter half of the Heian period, as well as the refined aesthetic sense of the Fujiwara aristocrats who were its most powerful adherents. Poised on one leg, Zaō brandishes a now-missing vajra; his might and ferocity are rendered in a sensitively modeled form embellished with delicately chased designs on the windswept garment. This icon was probably placed in a grotto similar to the one in which it was discovered in modern times, still worshipped, in a village on the Japan Sea north of Kyoto.