Zaō Gongen


Not on view

This boyish figure of ferocious mien is carved of a single block of Japanese cedar (sugi), but for its separately carved limbs. His right foot is raised in a bounding leap as he brandishes a now-missing vajra in his raised right fist. He wears the Hindu dhoti, a long cloth wrapped around the waist and between the legs that, like the long scarf draped over the left shoulder, flutters with the figure's energetic movement. His hair sweeps back in flamelike tufts to frame the face. The powerful expression, with brow bulging and mouth open in a roar, is made riveting by inset crystal eyes, including a third in the center of the brow, that are painted and touched with red to appear bloodshot.

Zaō Gongen is the protective spirit of Mount Kimpu in the lovely Yoshino range south of Nara. Because he came to be venerated as a local avatar of Shaka Nyorai, Kannon Bosatsu, and Miroku Buddha—the Buddhas of past, present, and future worlds— according to a text of 1337, Kimpusen Himitsuden (Secret Traditions of Mount Kimpusen), his abode in Yoshino was seen as a Pure Land in the present world as well as in the future.

Zaō Gongen, Wood, gilt bronze, colored beads, and crystal, Japan

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