Fujiwara no Muchimaro

Fujiwara no Muchimaro

1200s or 1300s

Hanging scroll; ink, color, gold, and cut gold on silk

Overall: 141.3 x 87 cm (55 5/8 x 34 1/4 in.); with knobs: 210.2 x 112.4 cm (82 3/4 x 44 1/4 in.)

Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1983.5



Fujiwara no Muchimaro (680-737) was a member of the elite Fujiwara family, which had close ties to Japan's imperial family. This portrait of Muchimaro shows him in distinguished court attire with a sword at his side, and a tablet denoting his authority in his hands. He sits elevated upon tatami matting with a decorated silk border. The boughs of wisteria appearing in the background symbolize his status as a Fujiwara family member. Above his head is an image of the Buddha Dainichi Nyorai (Sanskrit: Mahavairocana) seated within a golden-bordered disc on a lotus pedestal. The Buddha has flaming head and body mandorlas. The deity's identity is confirmed by his headdress, which features the representation of the Five Wisdom Buddhas, and his hand gesture, the Wisdom Fist mudra. Documents contained in the painting's box shed light on the history of this image. First, they reveal that at one time the painting was owned by Viscount Suematsu Kench? (1855-1920), a journalist, politician, and historian of the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taish (1912-1926) periods. One of the documents is a letter sent in 1909 to Suematsu from Mikami Sanji (1865-1939), a historian at the Tokyo Imperial University, now Tokyo National University. In the letter, Mikami relates that he has been informed by a colleague that a painting of similar date and iconography is in the collection of the temple Eizanji in Nara. He notes that the Eizanji painting differs in that it includes an ink inscription attributed to Muchimaro, and that Dainichi Nyorai is depicted in the form of a Sanskrit seed syllable, rather than in corporal form. Further, he notes that the Eizanji painting is included in an Edo period (1615-1868) woodblock-printed manual of Japanese art entitled Ten Types of Ancient (Objects) (Shuko jisshu). A second letter addressed to Suematsu from Hijikata Hisamoto (1833-1918), who was at the time the head of the Japanese Art Society (Nihon bijutsu ky?kai), indicates that this painting was shown in the 43rd exhibition of the Society in 1909. Muchimaro is known as the founder of the Eizanji, the Shingon School Buddhist temple that was once a branch temple of the powerful temple Kofukuji in Nara. The principal deity of veneration at Eizanji's main hall is the Buddha Yakushi Nyorai (Sanskrit: Bhaisajyaguru), but that of the Octagonal Hall built in honor of Muchimaro is a seated figure of Dainichi Nyorai. This painting would seem to assert that Muchimaro is an avatar of Dainichi Nyorai. The representation of Muchimaro in this painting is indeed close to that of the Eizanji painting, but the inclusion of the figure of Dainichi Nyorai makes this painting an interesting iconographical variant. In addition, while the Eizanji painting shows a landscape behind Muchimaro, this painting features a profusion of wisteria. An image of Muchimaro in a similar pose appears in Matsudaira Sadanobu's (1759-1829) 1795 Compendium of Ancient Paintings (Koga ruiju).

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