Japanese / Buddha Amitabha (Amida Nyorai) / Kamakura period, mid- to late 13th centuryJapanese
Buddha Amitabha (Amida Nyorai)
Kamakura period, mid- to late 13th century

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Name-CRT: Japanese
Title: Buddha Amitabha (Amida Nyorai)
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1250
Creation End Date: 1299
Creation Date: Kamakura period, mid- to late 13th century
Creation Place: Japan
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: Cypress wood with traces of pigment and cut gold leaf, and with inlays of crystal
Dimensions: H. 47 in. (119.4 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.204a-b
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Rights: http://www.asiasociety.org

The introduction of Buddhism to Japan was one of the most important events in Japanese history and had a lasting effect on the development of its thought, art, and culture. According to Japanese sources, Buddhism was introduced from the Korean kingdom of Paekche in either 538 or 552 as part of a series of diplomatic exchanges that also led to a broader awareness of the beliefs and material culture of China and Korea. An interest in Buddhist pure lands, particularly that of Amitabha Buddha, developed in China in the 6th century, and worship of Amitabha became widespread in Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Amitabha's descent from the Western Pure Land is illustrated in this 13th-century sculpture. He is identified here by the position of his hands, which are held in the gesture of teaching or appeasement (vitarkamudra). In East Asia, this gesture is used to depict Amitabha as he descends to earth to guide a deceased practitioner to rebirth in his pure land, Sukhavati, which is also sometimes known as the Western Pure Land.

Images of Amitabha's descent to earth illustrate the nineteenth of forty-eight vows made by this Buddha in a previous life, in which he promises to appear at the moment of death to all beings who devoutly desire rebirth in his Western Pure Land. These vows are listed in the Sukhavativyuha, one of the principal texts of the Pure Land tradition. Painted and sculpted versions of this theme, which are known as descent or raigo images, became popular in Japanduring the 11th century and are known to have been placed before the deathbed of a devotee in order to help her or him concentrate on Amitabha and his promise.

In this sculpture, the rather mechanical treatment of the garment folds and the less fleshy depiction of the face, hands, and feet help date it to the third quarter of the 13th century. Amitabha stands on a lotus pedestal. Inlaid crystals are used to depict his eyes and the urna in his forehead. He wears a skirtlike garment and a longshawl, both of which were painted and then covered with designs in cut gold leaf, such as the floral roundels and leaf arabesques on the borders. The elegance and refinement of this sculpture suggest that it was carved in the region around Kyoto and Nara, where the influence of the courtly traditions of the Heian period continued throughout the Kamakura period.

It is likely that this sculpture was used individually or as part of a triad of images of the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. Eleventh- and 12th-century representations of Amitabha's descent generally feature a Buddha with a large heavenly retinue. The development in the 13th century of simple descent images showing only Amitabha or Amitabha with two attendant bodhisattvashas been attributed to the prominence achieved by the Chinzei branch of the Pure Land sect founded by Shokobo Bencho (1163-1238), one of the chief disciples of Honen (1133-1212), the founder of the Japanese branch of Pure Land Buddhism. The doctrinal basis of this development can be traced to the Treatise of the Selected Recitations of the Buddha's Name of the Original Vow (Senchaku hongan nenbutsu shu), one of the most important works by Honen. In it he states that single raigo images of Amitabha, or those in which he is attended by only two bodhisattvas, were more efficient because they focused the devotee's attention more closely on the deity.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 91.
Related Document Description: Lee, Sherman E. Asian Art: Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd. New York: Asia Society, 1970, pp. 68, 100.
Related Document Description: Leidy, Denise Patry. 'Iconography and Provenance: Buddhist Art from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection.' Orientations (March 1993), p. 57.
Related Document Description: Rosenfield, John M. 'The Perfection of Japanese Sculpture.' Apollo (November 1983), p. 428.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 144, 145.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 74, 133-34.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.204a-b
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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