The Three Sacred Shrines at Kumano: Kumano Mandala

The Three Sacred Shrines at Kumano: Kumano Mandala

c. 1300

Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk

Image: 134 x 62 cm (52 3/4 x 24 7/16 in.); Overall: 217.2 x 80 cm (85 1/2 x 31 1/2 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 1953.16


This is an early and important example of a landscape mandala, a Buddhist meditative device. In a single, carefully structured painting, the artist compressed relatively distant shrine sites into a unified composition. He imposed sacred meaning by arranging the sites hierarchically and by suggesting a relationship between Buddhist deities and the local gods who preceded Buddhism’s arrival to Japan. Kumano, the region in which these three distinct shrines reside, lies at the tip of the Kii peninsula to the south of present-day Nagoya. An area of spectacular natural beauty, its most dramatic sites-imposing rock outcroppings and a plunging waterfall-were thought to house indigenous spirits. Kumano was long associated with Japan’s genesis mythology.

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