Kaikei, the great master sculptor of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), established the primary school of sculpture that produced statuary for the major temples in Nara and Kyoto. Especially important among Kaikei sculptures is a distinctive style of Buddha image that is refined and graceful, and clothed in deeply folded and decoratively draped robes.
The Kimbell’s sculpture is a rare image of the historical Buddha, Shaka (Shakyamuni), who is identified by the abhayamudra (gesture of reassurance) of the right hand. His left foot advancing, the Buddha appears to move forward to greet the devotee with an expression of gentle and profound compassion. The beautifully proportioned figure is wrapped in an elegant robe that covers the body in rhythmical folds, rippling across the stomach and cascading over the arms. Entirely covered with gold lacquer, the robe is further embellished with a floral and geometric pattern of fine-cut gold leaf.
The Kamakura period saw a revival of the historical Buddha in a new type of image—as a divine savior who descends from heaven to meet the faithful. This image, called “Shaka raigo,” is documented in paintings of the early thirteenth century; the Kimbell statue is a rare example of this type in three-dimensional form, and one of only two known images of Shaka created by Kaikei.