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Jizo Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha)
Zen'en (active first half 13th century)
Japan; Kamakura period (1185-1333), 1223 - 1226
Cypress wood with cut gold leaf and traces of pigment; staff with metal attachments
H. 22 3/4 in. (57.8 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection of Asian Art
One of the most popular deities in Japan, Jizo, the Bodhisattva of the Earth Womb, plays a minor role in India where he is shown as one of a group of eight great bodhisattvas from the 6th through the 12th centuries. Devotion to this bodhisattva, which developed in Central Asia, can be traced to the Dashachakrakshitigarbha (Sutra of the Ten Wheels), first translated into Chinese in the 5th century. This text describes Jizo as a bodhisattva who takes the form of a monk and guides souls through the torturous Buddhist hells. Worship of Jizo flourished in Tang-period China (618-907) when the sutra listed above, and two other texts, established his importance as a savior who appears during the tenebrous period between the final transcendence or parinivana of the Historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, and the coming of the Future Buddha, Maitreya. Introduced to Japan at least as early as the 8th century, devotion to Jizo flourished after the 10th century due in part to the Ojoyoshu (Essential of Pure Land Rebirth), written by the monk Genshin (942-1017). This work emphasizes the deity's role as a savior in the six realms of transmigration: gods, jealous gods, hungry ghosts, hell-beings, animals, and humans. The staff carried by the image in the Asia Society collection is thought to allude to his travels throughout these realms, while the jewel held in his left hand refers to his ability to grant wishes. In Japan, Jizo is also worshiped as the protector of women, children, and travelers. As a result, stone statues of this bodhisattva are frequently placed at crossroads.

Jizo, who has the shaven head of a Buddhist monk, wears a vest and long skirtlike garment. A full shawl covers most of the vest and the upper part of his body. The carving and decoration of his clothing are carefully designed to show the differences between the skirt, vest, and shawl. His skirt is green with a border that has a geometric design made with cut gold leaf (kirikane). His upper garment, which is draped over his left arm, is also green with a floral border made of cut gold leaf. The vest is decorated with a geometric pattern in cut gold leaf, and the same material is used for the stylized designs and leaf-scroll borders on the large shawl, which falls from the bodhisattva's left shoulder. The use of borders to divide the shawl into different areas refers to the fact that originally a monk's garment was to be pieced together from fragments of cloth.

The statue was made of Japanese cypress (hinoki) using the joined woodblock method of construction, which was perfected in the 11th century. In this technique, different parts -- such as the head, feet, hand, and torso - were carved from separate pieces of wood, the head and torso were hollowed out, and the pieces then assembled. The use of inlaid crystal for the eyes and "third eye" or urna in the center of the forehead typifies the naturalism and immediacy that define Kamakura-period Buddhist art.

When the sculpture was repaired in the early 1960s, it was discovered that inscriptions, mostly the names of the donors or pious wishes, are written in black ink, all over the carved-out interior of the body and head. Among them is the name of the sculptor, Zen'en, an artist whose life and work is recorded almost exclusively in such inscriptions. The names of two prominent monks at the Kofukuji in Nara are inscribed in the cavity: Jisson is referred to as the abbot of this temple and Han'en as the former abbot. Temple records indicated that the monks held these positions from 1223 to 1226, thereby providing a date for this sculpture.

Recent studies in Japan suggest that Zen'en used the name Zenkei later in his career. Zenkei was at one time thought to be his successor, who is now known to have been his son Zenshun, who was active in the second half of the 13th century. The gently swelling, youthful physique and face of the Jizo, his long narrow eyes, and fleshy mouth, and the full, flowing drapery, enhanced by deep folds such as those seen at the upper abdomen, are characteristics of Zen'en's style in the 1220s. The Jizo in the Asia Society is the same height as a sculpture of the Bodhisattva Kannon with Eleven Heads (Sanskrit, Ekadamushakha Avalokiteshvara) in the Nara National Museum and one of Monju (Sanskrit, Manjushri) in the Tokyo National Museum, both of which were also created by Zen'en in the 1220s.

The inscriptions in the two sculptures in Japan refer to a deity of the Kasuga Shrine in Nara. Located near the Kofukuji, the site, built as a tutelary temple for the powerful Fujiwara family in the 8th century, has long been the focus of a cult linking imported Buddhist deities with native Shinto gods. Known as honji-suijaku, or "true-nature manifestation", this practice flourished in the Heian period (794-1185) and was an important component of later Kamakura-period (1185-1333) Buddhism. Painted representations of the sacred Kasuga region, popular in the 13th and 14th centuries, often feature both the buildings of the Kasuga Shrine and those from Kofukuji.

Five Buddhist deities are associated with the five major buildings at the Kasuga shrine; the Buddhas Shaka (Shakyamuni) and Yakushi (Bhaishyajaguru) and the bodhisattvas Jizo, Kannon with Eleven Heads, and Monju. Such a pentad is known to have been consecrated as the main deities of a thirteen-story pagoda at Kofuku-ji in 1215. The officiating priest at this service was Han'en, who is listed in the inscriptions in both the Jizo in the Asia Society and the Kannon with Eleven Heads in the Nara National Museum. A similar group of five, produced slightly later, was housed in the Hokke-do, at the same temple. It is possible that the extraordinarily well-preserved Jizo in New York and his counterparts in Japan were once part of this second set of images of the five Buddhist manifestations of the Kasuga Shrine.

Denise Leidy

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