Bodhidharma in Red Robes (Shue Daruma zō)

Kano Masanobu 狩野正信 Japanese

Not on view

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 nineteenth century. Although today he is most closely associated with Chinese-style ink landscapes, Kano Masanobu in his own day was renowned as a painter of portraits and Buddhist icons. He probably received the commission for this picture of Bodhidharma, the fifth-century Indian monk credited with transmitting Zen Buddhist teachings to China, from a Zen temple, where in medieval Japan 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 effective description of the gaze of the patriarch, who conveyed to East Asia an essential Zen message of self-reflection in pursuit of awakening—Look inward to become a buddha. Masanobu used a series of bold, layered ink lines in combination with washes of vermilion to render Bodhidharma’s characteristically red robes and guide the eye to the center of the picture, where the Zen master meets the adherent with a penetrating gaze, 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.

Bodhidharma in Red Robes (Shue Daruma zō), Kano Masanobu 狩野正信 (Japanese, ca. 1434–ca. 1530), Hanging scroll; ink and color on paper, Japan

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