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Bishamonten, Guardian of the North


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 223

Worshipped as one of the Four Heavenly Guardians of the cardinal directions, Bishamonten guards the perilous north and protects people from all manner of malignant spirits. Imagined as a powerful warrior standing atop a pair of demons, Bishamonten carries in his left hand a miniature stupa (a symbol of Buddhist teachings, which he is also charged with safeguarding). This sculpture was originally worshipped at Iwayadera, a major religious center in the medieval period that later fell into decline. Inscriptions on the inside of the sculpture indicate that it was restored several times, beginning in the thirteenth century. The work’s first major restoration by the Kyoto sculptor Inkai (active mid-1260s–mid-1270s) around 1275 was ordered by Emperor Go-Uda (1267–1324; ruled 1274–87) in the aftermath of the first Mongol invasions of Japan.

Bishamonten, Guardian of the North, Wood with pigments, Japan

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