The Bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokiteshvara)
Aaron Rio, Associate Curator
Kannon is a compassionate bodhisattva and one of the most popular and most frequently depicted deities in Japanese Buddhism. Here he wears flowing robes and is draped with sashes. Originally, its surface would have been decorated with layers of lacquer, pigments, and mostly likely gold leaf, though today its cypress wood core is completely revealed. The sculpture represents a technical and stylistic transition. Its ample proportions harken back to sculpture of the 900s, while the artist’s approach to the figure’s posture and drapery suggests a date to the next century.
The manner of carving the head and most of the body out of a single block of wood represents a late modification of the so-called ichiboku-zukuri method at a time when many Japanese Buddhist sculptors were transitioning toward the more efficient multi-block, or yosegi-zukuri, technique.
Bodhidharma in Red Robes
Aaron Rio, Associate Curator
This imagined portrait of Bodhidharma in red robes is a recently rediscovered work by Kano Masanobu (ca. 1434–ca. 1530), founder of the Kano school, which dominated Japanese painting for four centuries, from the artist’s late career through the 19th century. Although today he is most closely associated with Chinese style ink landscapes, Kano Masanobu was in his own day known for his versatility and equally renowned as a painter of portraits and Buddhist icons. He probably received the commission for this image of Bodhidharma—the 5th-century Indian monk credited with transmitting Zen Buddhist teachings to China—from a Zen temple, where portraits of Bodhidharma were displayed during various religious services, sometimes in combination with images of other patriarchs. The efficacy of such pictures pivots on an artist’s effective description of the gaze of the patriarch, who conveyed to East Asia an essential Zen message of self-reflection in pursuit of awakening. In Masanobu’s picture, the Zen master meets the adherent with a penetrating gaze and exhausted mien, calling to mind the nine years he is said to have sat in meditation, staring at the wall of a cave. Masanobu’s singular talent as a portraitist is also evident in his punctilious handling of Bodhidharma’s physiognomy, carefully detailed using a complex layering of only three pigments—ink, vermilion, and ochre.
Wine container (Hu)
Zhixin Jason Sun, Brooke Russell Astor Curator of Chinese Art
This wine container illustrates a major innovation of China’s bronze tradition in the late years of the Eastern Zhou dynasty when craftsmen, inspired by the nomadic art of the steppes, began to embellish monochromatic bronzes with sumptuous surface décor of colorful inlays. This demonstrates a critical shift in the function of bronze vessels from serving as ritual objects to serving as vehicles for the display of wealth and status. The well-balanced form, exquisite ornamentation, and exacting craftsmanship of this piece tell an inspiring story not only about the art of ancient China but also its contact with other parts of the world.
Mending Clothes by Daylight
Joseph Scheier-Dolberg, Oscar Tang and Agnes Hsu-Tang Associate Curator of Chinese Paintings
The painting’s importance is significantly enhanced by the presence of an inscription by Chijue Daochong (1169–1250), one of the most prominent Chan abbots of the thirteenth century. From 1219 until his death in 1250, Chijue held a succession of powerful abbacies in the power centers of Chan Buddhism, including Lingyin Monastery in Hangzhou and Tiantong Monastery in the Taibai Mountains of Shaanxi Province; the signature on this inscription locates him in Shaanxi, so it must have been written during his time there, from 1239 to 1249. In Chan Buddhism, calligraphy by a prominent monk was seen to be invested with the authority and presence of the master, which makes this an object of significant religious and charismatic power. It was likely brought to Japan in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries as part of the first wave of transmission of Chinese Chan ideas, artworks, and people.
Ancient Ritual Bronzes
Eleanor Hyun, Associate Curator
Embroidered screens depicting bronzes represent an interesting intersection of various media: three-dimensional bronzes are depicted in two-dimensional forms via embroidery. The manner in which these bronzes are illustrated also points to another medium: printed books. From the bronze forms and the inscriptions, the screen finds its source material in the printed compendia of Chinese bronzes that circulated in the region.
This kind of embroidered screen also represents a nexus of male and female spheres. Women were the primary producers of embroidered arts, but this subject is intimately linked to the male sphere of Confucian ritual and statecraft. As embroidered screens grew in demand, men entered the textile arts and created workshops, many were situated in Anju, Pyeong’an Province in present-day North Korea.