National TreasureSamantabhadra Bodhisattva

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  • 絹本著色普賢菩薩像
  • 1 hanging scroll
  • Color on silk
  • 159.1x74.5
  • Heian period/12th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • A-1

This work, a shining example of Buddhist painting from the late Heian period (794-1185), depicts the Fugen Bosatsu (Skt. Samantabhadra Bodhisattva) astride a white elephant, with flowers drifting down from above. Together with the bodhisattva Monju (Skt. Manjusri), he accompanies the Buddha Sakyamuni (J. Shaka). It is said that Fugen, riding on a white elephant with six tusks, appears before those who chant the Lotus Sutra, thus granting them protection.

In this painting, Fugen sits upon a lotus dais placed on the back of a white elephant, whose trunk is wrapped around a pink lotus flower. The bodhisattva's hands are pressed together, his gaze is directed downward, and three figures representing salvific manifestations of Buddhist deities (J. sanke'nin) adorn the top of his head. There is a canopy of flowers above the figure, and blossoms trail down on both sides to create a scene of exquisite beauty.

Both the body of the deity and that of the white elephant are painted a translucent white, outlined with fine strokes of light ink, and shaded with faint vermilion. Azurite blue, malachite green, yellow ochre, orange umber, vermilion, and gold foil are used on the lotus dais and the robes worn by the bodhisattva. Thinly cut gold leaf (J. kirikane) is also liberally applied in patterns that required the utmost in delicate technique. Preeminent among the many images of this bodhisattva, this work is a classic example of the transformation of Buddhist painting into a truly Japanese pictorial style during the late Heian period.