Iconographic Drawings of the Five Kings of Wisdom (Myōō-bu shoson)

Period: Heian period (794–1185)

Date: 12th century

Culture: Japan

Medium: Handscroll; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: 13 1/4 in. x 42 ft. 2 3/16 in. (33.7 x 1285.7 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: 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

Accession Number: 1975.268.6


The Five Great Kings of Wisdom (Godai Myōō) are ferocious-looking deities who ward off evil in order to protect the Buddha’s law. The opening section of this scroll shows various depictions of Fudō Myōō, the Immovable King of Wisdom. The surrounding mandorla of flames represents the extinguishing of human passions. Accompanying the illustrations are schematic drawings of the deity’s attributes: a vajra “thunderbolt” sword (a symbol for cutting through ignorance), an eight-spoked dharmachakra disk, and a two-pronged vajra with rope.

The Zuzō shō (or Jikkanshō) is an encyclopedia of Esoteric Buddhist iconography in ten scrolls, with detailed descriptions of the attributes of the various Myōō. This scroll is stylistically close to the oldest surviving version of the Zuzō shō, housed at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto from approximately 1193.