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Koma-Inu (Mouth Closed); One of Pair

Asian Art

On View: Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
Many Shintō shrines have two statues of mythical lion-dogs standing at their entrance. One creature’s mouth is always open, while the other’s is closed. They serve the same purpose as images of Buddhist guardian deities: protecting the shrine from the forces of evil. This unusually early pair probably predates the practice of placing the beasts outside the door. With their wood bodies and painted surfaces (now largely worn away), they likely were made for display in a sheltered location.

These beasts are known in Japanese as koma-inu, or “Korean lions,” a name that acknowledges their foreign origins. The closest prototypes for the koma-inu are found in China, but the tradition of using lion-like figures as guardians can be traced to ancient India and Iran.
MEDIUM Hinoki (cypress wood) with traces of pigment
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES early 13th century
    PERIOD Kamakura Period
    DIMENSIONS 21 x 11 1/4 in. (53.3 x 28.6 cm)
    COLLECTIONS Asian Art
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Asian Galleries, West, 2nd floor (China)
    EXHIBITIONS
    ACCESSION NUMBER 85.171.2
    CREDIT LINE Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal and Dr. and Mrs. Robert Feinberg, A. Augustus Healy Fund, Frank L. Babbott Fund, and Designated Purchase Fund
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