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Kōfuku-ji Mandala

Unknown13th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

This hanging scroll previously belonged to the celebrated modern Japanese painter Takeuchi Seihō (1864–1942). The uppermost section depicts Kasuga and Wakamiya Shrines in Nara, while the various Buddhist images enshrined in the halls of Kōfuku-ji Temple occupy the space below. Kasuga Shrine is the home of the tutelary Shinto deities of the powerful Fujiwara clan, while Kōfuku-ji is the family temple of the Fujiwara. Although Kōfuku-ji is the primary subject matter in this painting, the work is classified as a type of Kasuga Shrine Mandala.
One theory suggests that the present work is the only one of its kind that shows the arrangement of the Buddhist statues at Kōfuku-ji before a fire caused by the disturbances between the Minamoto and Taira clans at the end of 1180 ( Jishō 4) that destroyed the temple. Because of this, the painting is highly regarded for having historical value in offering insight into the many extant Buddhist statues at Kōfuku-ji Temple today.
The different applications of gold found throughout reveal the meticulous care given to this work—gold leaf was pressed onto the silk from the back of the painting to create an iridescence for the bodies of the buddha and bodhisattva images, while gold paint was applied on the front to depict the intricate outlines of their bodies. The lavish detailing that is extremely difficult to discern with the naked eye is a distinguishing feature of this work. These stylistic elements suggest that the painting dates to some time immediately before or after the fire in 1180, around the end of the Heian to the early Kamakura periods. Another theory, however, suggests that several of the depicted statues were carved after fire, leaving us with several questions regarding this work.

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