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Head of a Guardian

This large thirteenth-century head represents a guardian king of the Kamakura Period in Japan. Acquired in 1954 as part of The Guennol Collection, this head of one of the four Guardian kings was at one time owned by the Kofuku-ji temple in Nara and symbolically illustrates the role of Kofuku-ji in the brief period in Japan when Nara temples were rebuilt and refurbished, reflecting a renaissance of a naturalistic sculptural style.

Sculptors like Unkei, Kaikei, and their followers created portraits and divine images with a new realism that was an amalgam of previous Nara styles. The Head of a Guardian compares in expression and detail to the Shimento (Four Heavenly Guardians), which were carved for the Nanendo at Kofuku-ji in 1189 by the renowned artist Kokei. The figure's fiery eyes, furrowed brows, prominent nose, and open mouth present the ferocious mien typical of the Heavenly Guardians, whose role was to protect tbe temple's sacred precincts.

Catalogue Description:
An over-life-size head from a figure of one of the Shitenno, the four guardian kings of the cardinal directions. The head was at one time owned by the Nara temple Kofuku-ji. The fiery eyes, furrowed brow, prominent nose, and open mouth present a ferocious mien typical of these Heavenly Guardians, whose role was to protect the temple's sacred precincts. The head is carved of two blocks of wood, into which the topknot is inserted. Crystal inset eyes, painted on reverse. The filigree metal crown is a later replacement. Remains of polychrome on the outer surface, and traces of the painter's graffiti on the interior.


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