• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2266

    Japanese and Korean Art

    17 March 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 21

    Anonymous (early 14th century)

    Kasuga Shrine Mandala

    Price Realised  

    Anonymous (early 14th century)
    Kasuga Shrine Mandala
    Hanging scroll; ink, color, silver, gold and kirikane on silk
    37 3/8 x 16 1/8in. (95 x 41cm.)
    Box titled by Okakura Tenshin (1863-1913) by repute


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    An aerial view of a shrine set in a spring landscape with blossoming cherry trees and deer is intended to evoke an image of a palace in a Shinto paradise. The pilgrim enters the landscape through a red torii, or shrine gate, at the bottom right edge of the painting and follows a path that leads upward past a compound with two pagodas and across several bridges towards a walled compound with four adjoining small shrines oriented toward the right, or south. This is an iconic map of the sacred grounds of Kasuga Shrine in Nara, set at the base of Mount Mikasa, illuminated by the disc of a small golden moon. The powerful Fujiwara family founded the shrine in the eighth century to house four principal deities associated with the origin and rise of the clan, namely the clan's guardian deity, Ame no Koyane no Mikoto and his consort, and two others.

    In the twelfth century, a fifth building was added to house another deity, Wakamiya (Young prince). In the painting, it is located to the right of the main shrine. Kasuga Shrine, with its delicate red, white and green corridors, looked then much as it does today. Only the two pagodas have long since disappeared.

    The cult of Kasuga Shrine spread to the provinces by the late twelfth century and its devotees required paintings for worship. Performing devotions in front of the painting was an alternative to undertaking the long journey to the shrine. It is thought that the many surviving shrine mandalas were painted by Buddhist artists in an atelier at the Kofukuji temple compound in Nara. Other examples of Kasuga Shrine mandala paintings in Western collections can be found in the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Mary and Jackson Burke Collection, and the John and Kimiko Powers Collection.