Head of a Guardian
On View: Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
This dramatic head once appeared atop the giant, muscular figure of a shitennō, or guardian figure, one of four surrounding an even larger figure of a Buddha that served as the primary focus for worship in a temple. The guardians stood in aggressive postures, fending off any evil that might come to the temple. With its crystal eyes and bright-green skin, this figure must have been an intimidating presence in the dimly lit temple interior. In the Kamakura period (1185–1333), Japanese sculptors introduced a new degree of naturalism and expression to previously idealized and serene Buddhist subjects. This head came from the collection of Kōfuku-ji, an important temple in the city of Nara.
Hinoki wood with lacquer on cloth, pigment, rock crystal, metal
22 1/16 x 10 1/4 x 13 15/16 (56.0 x 26.0 x 35.5 cm) (show scale)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection
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Head of a Guardian, 13th century. Hinoki wood with lacquer on cloth, pigment, rock crystal, metal, 22 1/16 x 10 1/4 x 13 15/16 (56.0 x 26.0 x 35.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection, 86.21. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , 86.21_PS9.jpg)
overall, 86.21_PS9.jpg., 2019
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An over-life-size head from a figure of one of the Shitenno, the four guardian kings of the cardinal directions in Buddhism. The head was at one time owned by the Nara temple Kofuku-ji. The fiery eyes, furrowed brow, prominent nose, and open mouth present a ferocious mien typical of these Heavenly Guardians, whose role was to protect the temple's sacred precincts.
The head is carved of two blocks of wood, into which the topknot is inserted. Crystal inset eyes, painted on reverse. The filigree metal crown is a later replacement. Remains of polychrome on the outer surface, and traces of the painter's graffiti on the interior.
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