This is one of the Art Institute’s most prized works of Japanese Buddhist sculpture. Bishamon-ten (also known as Tamonten or Vaisravana) is the chief of the four guardian devas (or "shitennō" ) who protect the four cardinal directions in a Buddhist sanctuary. Together they defend the entire world against evil and promote the seeking of enlightenment. Originally an Indian folk deity who was later adopted by Buddhism, Bishamon wards off harmful influences to the north.
Glaring at those who pose danger to the Buddhist law, Bishamon-ten is clothed in full armor, ready to take on the Buddha’s enemies. The figure is carved from wood in an intricate style that conveys action while also paying attention to the smallest details of his costume. The dynamic representation of Bishamon’s figure—the sway of his hips and the opposing movements of his arms, with his sleeves swinging as if caught in a divine breeze—effectively expresses the guardian’s strength and determination. His elaborate helmet is actually carved from the same piece of wood as the head. The plated armor was elaborately decorated with dragons, flowers, and other patterns depicted in gold and bright colors, ample traces of which remain. Bishamon once held a miniature reliquary in the upturned palm of his left hand and a sword in the right, symbolizing his duty to defend the Buddhist law.


  • Title: Bishamonten
  • Creator: Japanese
  • Date Created: 11th century
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: approx. 135 cm (52 3/4 in.)
  • Type: Sculpture
  • External Link: The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Media: Wood with traces of polychromy
  • Culture/Place: Japan
  • Credit Line: The Art Institute of Chicago, Robert Allerton Endowment, 1968.145
  • Artist: Japanese

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more


Google apps