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Head of a Guardian

Asian Art

On View: Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
This head belonged to an image of one of the four fierce Shitennō, or Buddhist guardians of the cardinal directions. In Japanese temples, the Shitennō were often installed at the four corners of a central platform, surrounding an image of a seated Buddha. They are depicted as warriors and always strike dramatic, athletic poses. Given the size of this head, the original figure, carved entirely of wood and painted in bright colors, would have been massive. The exaggerated musculature of the face emphasizes the power and intensity of the subject, as do the bright eyes, which are made of rock crystal that would gleam when hit by the lights of the temple. The head is in the lively, naturalistic style that developed early in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), and it once belonged to the important temple of Kōfuku-ji, in the ancient city of Nara.
MEDIUM Hinoki wood with lacquer on cloth, pigment, rock crystal, metal
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES 13th century
    PERIOD Kamakura Period
    DIMENSIONS 22 1/16 x 10 1/4 x 13 15/16 (56.0 x 26.0 x 35.5 cm)  (show scale)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION 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)
    IMAGE overall, 86.21_PS9.jpg., 2019
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION An over-life-size head from a figure of one of the Shitenno, the four guardian kings of the cardinal directions. 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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