Japanese / Kneeling Woman / Nara period, early 8th centuryJapanese
Kneeling Woman
Nara period, early 8th century

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Japanese
Creator Name-CRT: Japanese
Title: Kneeling Woman
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 700
Creation End Date: 733
Creation Date: Nara period, early 8th century
Creation Place: Japan, Nara Prefecture, Horyuji
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: Clay with traces of slip and pigment
Dimensions: H. 9 in. (22.9 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1979.200
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. During the 6th and 7th centuries, a writing system (using Chinese characters) and a highly sophisticated governmental structure also were imported to Japan. During the 8th century--which is known as the Nara period (710-794) after the modern name of the city then the capital--Japan was part of an international trading network that linked the nations of East Asia to one another, and through China, to places as distant as India and Iran. The city plan of 8th-century Nara is patterned after the famous Chinese capital at Xi'an in Shaanxi Province and the styles of temples, sculptures, and paintings parallel those found on the continent.

This appealing sculpture of a kneeling woman illustrates the importance of Chinese prototypes in 8th-century Japanese art: her full-sleeved gown, which is tied at the bodice with a long sash, is identical in style to garments seen in Chinese sculptures of women dating from the late 7th and early 8th centuries. Her head is tilted down slightly, and her full sleeves cover her clasped hands. Her hair is parted in the center of her forehead and pulled together in a bun at the back of her head. The sculpture is made of a sandy clay that is supported by an interior wooden frame with wire wrappings. Traces of white slip remain on the woman's face and garments, and it is likely that both were once painted with colors over the slip. There are remnants of black pigment in her hair.

This sculpture was part of a larger group of clay figures in the five-story pagoda at the Horyuji, near Nara, one of the earliest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan. The pagoda and several other buildings at this site are believed to have been constructed in the late 7th or early 8th century. Four tableaux of clay sculptures illustrating important events in Buddhism are placed in the first story of this pagoda. The group in the north illustrates the parinirvana of Shakyamuni Buddha. Depicted at the east is the debate between the layman Vimalakirti and the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjushri, an event described in the Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra. A landscape believed to represent the Tushita Pure Land of the Bodhisattva Maitreya is placed in the south, while the distribution of Shakyamuni's ashes is illustrated by the group of clay figures at the west. It has been suggested that this sculpture of a kneeling woman was a mourner at the parinirvana of Shakyamuni or a member of the audience witnessing the debate between Vimalakirti and Manjushri.

This sculpture was registered as an Important Cultural Property on 5 September 1938, at which time it was in the possession of a private collector in Tokyo. It was released from registration on 16 June 1976, when many registered pieces were reclassified.

Related Document Description: Art of the Hakuho and Tempyo Periods. Nara: Nara National Museum, 1952.
Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 90.
Related Document Description: Bijutsu Kenkyu 72 (1937), pls. 13.1-2.
Related Document Description: Bijutsu Kenkyu 82 (1938), pl. 5.
Related Document Description: Mayuyama: Seventy Years. Tokyo: Mayuyama and Co., 1976, vol. 2, p. 155.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1979.200
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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