Head of a Guardian
Before entering most Japanese Buddhist temples, visitors must pass large and imposing sculptures of ferocious guardian figures whose role is to protect the premises from the enemies of the religion. The aggressive stances and exaggerated facial features of these figures stand in sharp contrast to the calm demeanor of the Buddha enshrined inside.
This over-life-size head is from the figure of a guardian king of the Kamakura period (1185–1333). It was once owned by the Kofuku-ji temple in Nara, and its vitality and naturalism are emblematic of the role of Kofuku-ji in the brief but pivotal period when the Nara temples were rebuilt and refurbished following a period of political instability.
The head is carved from two blocks of wood with a separate topknot. Its rock-crystal eyes are painted on the reverse and inset. Each detail of the physiognomy and headdress is deftly carved and finished with polychrome, presenting an expressive realism. Examination of the interior has revealed graffiti left by the painter. The filigree crown is a later replacement.
- Medium: Hinoki wood with polychrome, inlaid rock crystal eyes and filigree metal crown
- Place Made: Japan
- Dates: 13th century
- Period: Kamakura Period
- Dimensions: 22 1/16 x 10 1/4 x 13 15/16 (56.0 x 26.0 x 35.5 cm) (show scale)
- Collections:Asian Art
- Museum Location: This item is not on view
- Accession Number: 86.21
- Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection
- Rights Statement: Creative Commons-BY
- Caption: Head of a Guardian, 13th century. Hinoki wood with polychrome, inlaid rock crystal eyes and filigree metal crown, 22 1/16 x 10 1/4 x 13 15/16 (56.0 x 26.0 x 35.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alastair B. Martin, the Guennol Collection, 86.21. Creative Commons-BY
- 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.
- Record Completeness: Best (91%)