Standing Fudō Myōō

Unknown12th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

With the transmission of genuine esoteric teachings by the monk Kūkai (posthumously known as Kōbō Daishi, 774–835) in the early Heian period, many esoteric deities were also brought to Japan. Among them was Fudō Myōō (Skt. Ācala), who was not only venerated as one of many deities in complex mandala arrangements, but also as an independent deity and as one of the Five Great Myōō (Godai Myōō). In these contexts, he is depicted with a corpulent, homely, child-like form, but the Fudō Myōō images seen in iconographic manuals brought to Japan by Kūkai depict the deity with both eyes wide open and a somewhat dignified air.
This sculpture, more in line with the homely versions of the deity, features Fudō Myōō with swirling hair, one eye closed, and one fang protruding up and one down from each side of the mouth. This form predominated from the mid-Heian period onward and was based upon the “Nineteen Visualizations of Fudō’’ (Fudō jūkyū kan). That said, the fine modeling of this sculpture elicits feelings of calm gentleness, rather than fear. As such, this image shows the same
qualities as were standard in Buddhist sculptures of the twelfth century.
However, there are peculiarities in the way it was produced. Comprised of two pieces of wood fitted together from the right and left sides, the sculpture has been hollowed out from the left shoulder down to the left knee, creating a large discrepancy between the sizes of the right and left pieces. Furthermore, it is common to have a base constructed separately with a hole in it into which a peg carved from the bottom of the sculpture would be inserted, enabling it to stand. However, this image is unusual in that the base and the figure are made from the same piece of wood. The decoration is rendered primarily with pigments, although cut gold leaf was applied in small areas such as on the head to depict lines in
the hair.

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