National TreasureLeather Pendants

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  • 牛皮華鬘 附 残欠 一括
  • 13 ornaments and fragments
  • Leather with pigments Cut gold leaf (kirikane)
  • Heian period/11th century
  • Nara National Museum
  • 751(工154)

  Buddhist pendants (keman), such as these, are thought to have their origins in the fresh flowers that were offered to nobles in ancient India. They were later adopted by Buddhism and used as decorations of the august splendor (shōgongu) that hung on the horizontal beam (nageshi) of temple halls. In Japan, ornaments made of leather, metal, wood, precious stone, silk, and other materials (kemanshiro) were used as substitutes for fresh floral garlands. There are many examples of such objects in wide, round fan-shaped forms.
  These pendants, made of leather, originally belonged to Tōji (Kyōō-gokokuji) Temple in Kyōto. Today, thirteen ornaments remain, all of them fashioned in openwork leather, which were lacquered, primed with white, and then decorated with polychrome patterns. The thirteen can be roughly divided into two types based on their motifs. One type has two Kalavinkas (paradisiacal birds with human heads) facing each other on a ground of composite Buddhist floral motifs (hōsōge mon), made to look like real flowers. The center shows a tied string (agemaki) reminiscent of that which would have bound together fresh flowers. The Kalavinkas hold floral baskets (keko) containing blossoms to scatter on the buddhas and bodhisattvas in praise (sange). In the other type, the tied string is placed at the center with composite Buddhist floral scrolls (hōsōge karakusa mon) covering the entire surface.
  The thirteen pieces exhibit individual differences in style. Since there are at least three or four distinguishable styles in both pendant types, it is difficult to believe that these ornaments originally formed one set. The superior stylistic treatment exhibited in Leather Pendant numbers 7 (登 to) and 8 (知 chi), seen in the use of the red lines on the bodies of the Kalavinka and the delicate cut gold leaf (kirikane) on the robes, reflects traditional techniques of Buddhist painting of the Heian period (794–1185). On the ornaments with only composite Buddhist floral scrolls, rainbow coloring called ungen zaishiki (in which several shades of similar hue are closely brushed together) and delicate patterns of kirikane were applied.
  The iconography of two Kalavinkas facing each other on a ground of composite Buddhist floral motifs can also be found on the gilt bronze openwork pendants of Chūsonji Temple in Iwate Prefecture, which are presumed to date from the first half of the twelfth century. The resplendent examples in the Nara National Museum are thought to have preceded the Chūsonji pieces. Although there is no record as to the hall in which the former pendants were used, they are believed to have been produced sometime in the eleventh century.