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9 / Portraits

Kuya-Shonin (Saint Kuya)
Kuya-Shonin (Saint Kuya)
Artist / Origin Kosho (Japan, active late 12th–early 13th century)
Region: East Asia
Date Kamakura Period, early 13th century
Material Wood
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 46 in. (117 cm.)
Location Rokuharamitsuji Temple, Kyoto, Japan

expert perspective

Yoshiaki ShimizuProfessor of Art and Archeology, Princeton University

Kuya-Shonin (Saint Kuya)

» Kosho (Japan, active late 12th–early 13th century)

expert perspective

Yoshiaki Shimizu Yoshiaki Shimizu Professor of Art and Archeology, Princeton University

Japanese portraits are contemplative, commemorative. These are used to fulfill religious function, rituals for celebrating the founding of a temple or the founding of the teaching. These sculptures are realistic, but we know that this particular sculpture was done in the thirteenth century representing a tenth-century figure. This person is known as Kuya, the Saint Kuya.

This is an extraordinary thing. This school of Buddhism capitalized on the chanting of the name of the deity. Amida butsu, Amida butsu—namu Amida butsu. Six syllables. And if you chant, it is believed in the thirteenth century that you are immediately picked as a candidate for salvation. And that is the most extraordinary—it is the sound taking the body. Embodied sound. It’s a conceptual art from the thirteenth century. We don’t have to wait for the twenty-first century to see this. This kind of thing was explored early on in Japanese art history. The Western generalization about Japanese art was it’s abstract, not interested in the reality, light and shade didn’t bother—No! They were interested in light and shade in these sculptures.” 

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