• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1978

    Japanese And Korean Art

    18 March 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 192

    A Wood Seated Figure of Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru)

    HEIAN PERIOD (LATE 12TH CENTURY)

    Price Realised  

    A Wood Seated Figure of Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru)
    Heian period (late 12th century)
    The seated Yakushi Nyorai (Buddha of Healing) constructed in yosei-zukuri technique, with the right hand in a gesture bestowing fearlessness and the left hand holding a medicine jar, the robes open at the chest and draping across the left arm and the crossed legs; seated on a lotus dais with traces of gilt
    33 7/8in. (86cm.) high (figure only); 46½in. (118cm.) high (including dais)


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    Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru, meaning "Medicine Master") is the Buddha associated with healing. While early Buddhist texts credit Sakyamuni, the Historical Buddha, with unparalleled healing powers, gradually these qualities were expressed in some of the surrounding bodhisattvas such as Yakushi. While still a bodhisattva, he made twelve vows, two of which were to do with physical and mental healing, and upon fulfilling these he became a Buddha presiding over the realm known as "Pure Lapis Lazuli" in the eastern quarter. There he is attended by two bodhisattvas, Nikko and Gakko (Solar and Lunar Radiance). The popularity of the Buddha of Healing in Japan reaches back as far as the 7th century, when a cult around the deity was formed primarily among nobility at the imperial court. His iconographical attributes have come to be a medicine jar held in the palm of his left hand, and his right hand raised, palm facing out, in the mudra bestowing fearlessness. Early representations of the Buddha of Healing did not feature a medicine jar and he was almost indistinguishable from the Historical Buddha.

    This seated Buddha of Healing is representative of typical late Fujiwara-period Buddhist sculpture. Wooden sculptures from this period are relatively rare and this example uses to good effect the grain of the cypress wood. The natural patterns present in the wood grain form gentle, flowing contours across the chest, belly and face of the statue.

    The tranquil expression with wide, lidded eyes, rounded features and soft, voluminous contours are common in Fujiwara-period sculpture. However, this statue also seems to exhibit an atmosphere of willful energy, expressed in a well-grounded, cross-legged seated position, imparting a sense of strength. The shallow, flowing drapery simply rendered, is a trait that was further developed and popularized in the Buddhist sculpture of the Kamakura period. The treatment of the robes, together with the other more definitive Fujiwara-period traits, have led Buddhist scholars in Japan to conjecture that this seated Buddha of Healing dates to the 12th century.