Japanese / Descent of Buddha Amitabha (Amida Raigo) / Kamakura period, late 13th centuryJapanese
Descent of Buddha Amitabha (Amida Raigo)
Kamakura period, late 13th century

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Name-CRT: Japanese
Title: Descent of Buddha Amitabha (Amida Raigo)
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 1267
Creation End Date: 1299
Creation Date: Kamakura period, late 13th century
Creation Place: Japan
Object Type: Paintings
Materials and Techniques: Ink, color, and gold on silk
Parts and Pieces: hanging scroll
Dimensions: 38 3/4 x 16 1/2 in. (93.4 x 41.9 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.191
Credit Line: Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Rights: http://www.asiasociety.org
Context: The introduction of Buddhism to Japan was one of the most important events in Japanese history and had a lasting effect on the development of its thought, art, and culture. According to Japanese sources, Buddhism was introduced from the Korean kingdom of Paekche in either 538 or 552 as part of a series of diplomatic exchanges that also led to a broader awareness of the beliefs and material culture of China and Korea. An interest in Buddhist pure lands, particularly that of Amitabha Buddha, developed in China in the 6th century, and worship of Amitabha became widespread in Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

Amitabha's descent from the Western Pure Land is illustrated in this late 13th-century painting. He is identified by the position of his hands, which are held in the gesture of teaching or appeasement (vitarkamudra). In East Asia, this gesture is used to depict Amitabha as he descends to earth to guide a deceased practitioner to rebirth in his pure land, Sukhavati, which is also sometimes known as the Western Pure Land.

Images of Amitabha's descent to earth illustrate the nineteenth of forty-eight vows made by this Buddha in a previous life, in which he promises to appear at the moment of death to all beings who devoutly desire rebirth in his Western Pure Land. These vows are listed in the Sukhavativyuha, one of the principal texts of the Pure Land tradition. Painted and sculpted versions of this theme, which are known as descent or raigo images, became popular in Japan during the 11th century and are known to have been placed before the deathbed of a devotee in order to help her or him concentrate on Amitabha and his promise.

In this painting, Amitabha stands on two lotuses atop a lotus pedestal. He is framed by a flame-shaped mandorla and a halo surrounds his head. His upper garment is green and has floral decoration made of cut gold leaf. His shawl is red and filled with cut-gold-leaf floral roundels filled with flowering tails.

This painting of Amitabha's descent illustrates the internationalism of Buddhist art in East Asia. It was once thought to be a Korean work because the roundels decorating Amitabha's shawl were common motifs on the garments of Buddhist divinities in Korean painting of the Koryo period (936-1392). However, similar roundels also occur in Chinese Buddhist painting from the 9th to 14th centuries, and they are also found in 13th- and 14th-century Japanese works. Amitabha's frontal position in this painting and the precise drafting of the delicate outlines indicate the work is by a Japanese rather than Korean artist.

It is likely that this painting was used individually or as part of a triad of images of the bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Mahasthamaprapta. Eleventh- and 12th-century representations of Amitabha's descent generally feature a Buddha with a large heavenly retinue. The development in the 13th century of simple descent images showing only Amitabha or Amitabha with two attendant bodhisattvas has been attributed to the prominence achieved by the Chinzei branch of the Pure Land sect founded by Shokobo Bencho (1163-1238), one of the chief disciples of Honen (1133-1212), the founder of the Japanese branch of Pure Land Buddhism. The doctrinal basis of this development can be traced to the Treatise of the Selected Recitations of the Buddha's Name of the Original Vow (Senchaku hongan nenbutsu shu), one of the most important works by Honen. In it he states that single raigo images of Amitabha, or those in which he is attended by only two bodhisattvas, were more efficient because they focused the devotee's attention more closely on the deity.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 85.
Related Document Description: Brown, Robert L. 'Light of Asia: Buddha Sakyamuni in Asian Art.' Arts of Asia 14 (January-February 1984), pp. 79-80.
Related Document Description: Kim, Hongnam. The Story of a Painting: A Korean Buddhist Treasure from the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation. New York: Asia Society Galleries, 1991, p. 5.
Related Document Description: Leidy, Denise Patry. 'Iconography and Provenance: Buddhist Art from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection.' Orientations (March 1993), p. 56.
Related Document Description: Mowry, Robert D. 'Korean Art in Western Collections: The Asia Society--The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection.' Korean Culture 3 (March 1982), pp. 8-9.
Related Document Description: Pal, Pratapaditya, et al. Light of Asia: Buddha Sakyamuni in Asian Art. Exh. cat. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984, pp. 36, 181, 303.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Hong Kong and Singapore: Hong Kong Museum of Art and National Museum Singapore, 1993, pp. 138, 139.
Related Document Description: Treasures of Asian Art: Selections from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, The Asia Society, New York. Tokyo: Idemitsu Museum of Arts, 1992, pp. 100, 142.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.191
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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