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Creator Nationality: Japanese
Creator Dates/Places: Japan
Creator Active Place: Japan
Creator Name-CRT: Japan, 12th Century
Title: Shinto Deity
Title Type: Primary
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1100
Creation End Date: 1199
Creation Date: 12th century
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: wood, with traces of polychromy
Dimensions: Overall: 50.3cm x 38.1cm
AMICA Contributor: The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 1978.3.1
ID Number: 1978.3.2
Credit Line: Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund
Context: The introduction in the sixth century of the religious ideas, images, and customs that defined Buddhism for the Japanese had a powerful, startling effect upon the people. They already possessed a complex system of beliefs, known as Shinto, which identified natural phenomena with the power of the gods (kami). Special trees, boulders, mountains, waterfalls, or similar physical expressions of nature's awesome powers were viewed as the abodes of kami. Extraordinary objects in the natural world were considered manifestations of the forces of nature and particularly of the higher powers causing them to be in the world. Humans were viewed as but part of this vast landscape of nature, and life but part of a cycle that included awareness of the realm of the deadas well as of the gods. In fact, the early Japanese did not distinguish between these realms as much as they embraced a natural, active recognition of their commonality and sought through ritual to obtain the benefit of the powers of all kami. Japan's earliest written accounts of its history contain dramatic passages describing the crucial role of the gods in the nation's affairs. Because no images of these kami existed in early Shinto, the sudden appearance of bronze representations of Buddhist gods incurred a strong reaction in Japan. Such icons were considered essential educational tools for conveying the teachings of the new religion. While the idea of using a man-made object to convey the identity and potency of a higher power was foreign to Shinto practice, over a period of two to three hundred years that position gradually shifted. By the ninth century the Shinto clergy had joined closely with the court and ruling aristocratic clans to identify the authority of the emperor with three specific sacred objects, erect shrines for their worship as emblems of their ancestry to the gods, and allow the production of sculptural images of kami for placement in shrines. Naturally these kami were usually crafted to resemble male and female aristocrats, as in this seated pair. The larger male figure holds an upright wooden tablet (shaku), a courtly symbol of authority. The projecting head cap with epaulets falling gracefully over each shoulder is recognizable, too, as one worn by high-ranking members of the court in early Japan. The female kami wears a multi-layer robe tied at the waist in fashionable Heian court style. Both Shinto images were carved from wood taken from a specially selected tree, itself perhaps regarded as a kami. The sculptor carefully followed the core and grain of the wood to help illuminate the natural power of the material. Each image consists of a central upright torso with an added horizontal element for the knees. The surfaces of the kami were initially painted. Even though these images were secreted in the dark recesses of a provincial Shinto shrine, away from view of the public, over the centuries the elements and insects have been at work. M.R.C.
AMICA ID: CMA_.1978.3.1-2
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights:
Copyright, The Cleveland Museum of Art
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