About this artwork
Earlier sculptures of this type were usually made from clay and lacquer, like the Chinese versions that inspired them. This example reflects a shift to carving in wood that took place in the Heian period (794–1185). The carving hints at the deity’s strong body beneath his armor, which still bears the traces of elaborate decoration: patterns of dragons and flowers in gold and bright colors.
This figure represents Bishamon, the chief of the four guardian devas (or shitennō) who protect the four cardinal directions in a Buddhist sanctuary. Originally an Indian folk deity, and later adopted by Buddhism, Bishamon was believed to ward off harmful influences from the north. The sculpture once held a miniature reliquary in his left hand and a spear in his right, symbolizing his duty to defend Buddhist law.
- Wood with traces of polychromy
- H. appro×. 135 cm (52 3/4 in.)
- Robert Allerton Endowment