Benzaiten, a hanging scroll painting


British Museum

British Museum

The Buddhist deity Benzaiten (Sanskrit: Sarasvati), is depicted playing a biwa, a kind of four-stringed lute. She is seated on a rocky dais covered in lotus leaves which is lapped by frothing waves. Beyond in the distance a waterfall cascades down from a mountainous valley. Benzaiten derived from the ancient Indian river goddess Sarasvati, who in Japan went on to be associated with water, the harvest, speech, learning and the arts. From the Kamakura period (1185-1333) onwards she was also widely venerated as a deity of good fortune.The combination of a highly detailed and brightly coloured figure with an ink-wash landscape is typical of many Buddhist paintings from the Kamakura and Muromachi (1333-1568) periods. Particular stylistic and technical features suggest that this painting was made in the era of the Northern and Southern Courts (1336-92): the leaping gold flames on the halo - executed in raised shell-white gesso (mori-age) covered in gold paint - and the combination of blue hair tresses edged at the forehead in pale green. Most other paintings of Benzaiten from this period depict her as a beauty in Chinese costume and her appearance here, as a bodhisattva with jewelled crown and necklace, is unusual.From 1999 to 2000, the painting was repaired and remounted in the Oka Studio at the Kyoto National Museum with assistance from agencies of the Government of Japan.

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  • Title: Benzaiten, a hanging scroll painting
  • Date Created: 1300/1399
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 135.50cm; Width: 57.40cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: painted
  • Subject: bodhisattva
  • Registration number: 1924,0714,0.2
  • Production place: Painted in Japan
  • Period/culture: Muromachi Period
  • Material: silk
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Sotheby's. Previous owner/ex-collection Vernet, A F
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