The result of The Radiocarbon Laboratory of the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, test no. GRA55742 is consistent with the dating of this lot.
Victor Harris, Keeper Emeritus of Japanese Antiquities, British Museum
Dainichi Nyorai (sanskrit: Mahavirocana), other wise known as Birushana (Makabirushana), is the central deity of the Mikkyo sects of esoteric Buddhsimas expounded in Japan as the Shingon sect by the monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi, 774-835) and the Tendai sect by the monk Saicho (Dengyo Daishi, 767-822). Esoteric Buddhism taught that Dainichi was the main figure of the Five Buddhas of Wisdom among a myraid of buddhas stretching away into the past and future, and that it was possible for a human being to become co-substantiated with the Buddha instantaneously through ritual practices employing light, sound, fragrance and contemplation. The altars in Shingon temples placed before the image of Dainichi are decked with ritual implements,sutras, flower vases, candlesticks, incense burners,bells, vajra, and vessels for food and liquids in fixed arrangements to provide the necessary atmosphere for contemplation accompanied by the chanting of sutras. To left and right of the figure of Dainichi are hung two great painted mandalas for contemplation while the service is conducted. The mandalas each show Dainichi Nyorai central to a vast geometric array of Buddhas, and represent the dual aspect to Buddhist existence, the Kongokai and the Taizokai which were translated by our Victorian ancestors rather charmingly as the 'Diamond World' and the 'Womb World'.That on the left, the Kongokai represents the ultimate truth beyond existence, while the Taizokai represents the Buddhist universe. Depictions of Dainichi on the Kongokai mandala show him as a seated bodhisattva with his hands in the 'chiken-in' getsure (the 'mudra of wisdom'), and on the Taizokai mandala as a seated Buddha with his hands forming the 'hokkaijo-in', or 'zenjo-in', attitude (the 'meditation mudra') with the hands held palm upwards in front of the abdomen and the right resting on the left with the thumbtips just touching.
When the concept of an infinite number of Buddhas was brought to Japan from China it was found readily acceptable by the Japanese people whose own nation was said to have been populated by 'eight million' kami, the nature and acestral deities of Shinto. The monk Gyoji (668-749) postulated the concept of 'Shimbutsu Shugo' whereby the Buddhas and the kami were mutally equivalent. The great eighth century bronze Buddha of the Todaiji temple in Nara is of Birushana or Dainichi (translateable as 'great Light'), and it became a religious and sociological statement of Shimbutsu Shugo in 752 AD when the retired Emperor Shomu, his Empress Komyo, and Empress Kokei officiated at its dedication together with great numbers of Buddhist monks and Shinto priests. A proclamation of the Grand Shrine at Ise, the shrine of Amaterasu Omigami, the Sun Goddess, declared that Dainichi was the Sun itself thus confirming Shimbutsu Shugo and the equivalence of the Buddha and Amaterasu. From this developed the 'Honji-suijaku' concept whereby the 'honji' were the original Buddhas, and 'suijaku' were the Shinto kami. The Mikkyo sects became popular with their intellectual approach and impressive rituals, and were favoured by the Japanese nobility and later by the samurai rulers of Japan.
This sculpture of cast bronze is a depiction of Dainichi-Nyorai in bodhisattva form with the hands in the chikken-in mudra. The deity is clothed with a light garment passing over one shoulder, has an urna (the protruberence in the forehead indicating Buddhahood), three folds to the flesh at the front of the neck, extended ear-lobes, the hair set in tight bunches, and wearing the crown of a bodhisattva. The light of Buddhist wisdom is expressed in the round halo behind the head. The trunk and head were made in separate castings with the arms also made separately and dove-tailed into the shoulders. The figure has the deep patination of age, although remnants of the original gilding remain in places. There are bracelets on each arm, although no necklace. The present lotus throne of wood is of more recent manufacture, and it is most likely that the original would also have been of bronze. The crisp modelling particularly of the drapery, hair, and crown are indications of Kamakura period bronze pieces. The gentle human expression may be compared with classic work of the Kamakura Period (see the seated wood figure of Dainichi Nyorai by Unkei, Kamakura Period, Christies, New York Japanese and Korean Art, lot 200, 18 March 2008). This sculpture however, has something of the appearance of earlier Buddhist figures and a look of somewhat introverted contemplation no doubt reflecting the religious vision of its creator. The irrefutable scientific dating to the 13th century makes it a unique and valuable document and an important piece of Buddhist art.