Koya Myojin (Mandala of the Four Deities of Mt. Koya)

Koya Myojin (Mandala of the Four Deities of Mt. Koya)

16th century

Hanging scroll, ink, color and cut gold foil on silk

Overall: 178.6 x 56.3 cm (70 5/16 x 22 3/16 in.); Painting only: 97.5 x 39.3 cm (38 3/8 x 15 1/2 in.)

Gift of Rosemarie and Leighton Longhi 1999.262

Description

Upon his arrival in Japan, the 9th-century Chinese Buddhist priest Kukai began searching for a mountain location that would be suitable for a meditation hall. Along the way he met a Japanese hunter with two dogs who helped him find a site on Mount Koya. This building became the home of the influential Esoteric sect of Japanese Buddhism, and still flourishes today.

The male figure dressed in aristocratic garb at the upper left of this composition is the hunter, here deified as a spirit of Japan's pre-Buddhist, Shinto faith. He is joined by his wife and below by two female Shinto deities from other Shinto shrines in Japan. Beneath them, the black and white dogs refer to the hunter's role in the story. This joining of foreign Buddhist and native Shinto imagery represents an important aspect of Japanese cultural history.

The attractive gold "diaper" pattern in the lower portion of the painting represents the painted stone tiles of a religious building. The lines are thin strips of gold foil rather than paint applied with a handheld brush.

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