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Pair of Japanese Komainu or Shishi. Late Muromachi period C16th. Vibrantly painted with mineral pigments on carved wood with glass eyes. The Karashishi (Chinese Lion) and Komainu (Korean Dog) are thought to have been introduced to Japan in around the 7th and 8th Centuries AD. They are the lion-dog temple guardians of both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and have been placed at the entrances or in the eves of shrines and temples to ward off evil spirits since this time.
Materials: Carved hinoki cypress wood, azurite, malachite, gofun and earth pigments, crystal eyes
Dimensions: H 56/67cm x W 30cm x D 51cm
The pair, as is traditional in Japanese religious sculptures of importance, were carved from fine grained and dense hinoke wood (Japanese cypress), from an older tree and then well seasoned; for stability, strength and longevity. The body is finely modeled; showing the ribs and details of the faces and mouth, both open and closed, add a realistic dimension to the mythical animals. The horn and the more stylized tails and leg feather, add drama to their presence. The shape and carving of the tails is reminiscent of the carved flames seen in other early Japanese Buddhist/Shinto sculpture. Much effort has been employed in the carving and polishing of the rock crystal eyes, the intention being to depict animals, not as merely representational and one dimensional ‘cardboard cut outs’ but to be three dimensional and as life-like as possible. In their time, they would certainly have been powerful visual images and as life like as any mythical animal could be.
The blue figure is female, carved with mouth closed, to shelter good spirits: Ungyo (Un in Chinese) Aum in Sanskrit.
The colour from the semi precious stone, azurite has been employed over gofun, (a lustrous white powdered oyster shell pigment), some has worn off with age, though the colour has lost little of its’ brilliance.
The genitals are indicated with two simple strokes and the horn is coloured with the same reddish earth pigment.
The green figure is male with an open mouth and red tongue, to scare off demons. The male gender is evidenced by carved testicles and penis: Agyo (Ah in Chinese) Aham in Sanskrit.
The vibrant green pigment is derived from the mineral malachite, a semi precious stone forming alongside azurite in natural deposits native to Japan and China and long used in East Asian artwork. As with the blue female sculpture, the colour is painted over a base of gofun, the traditional medium of choice for smoothing and preparing surfaces for colours in Japanese sculpture.
The rock crystal eyes with pupils painted with black lacquer on gold leaf, are a unique feature and along with the particular style of carving and finish, places them in the mid - late C16th Late Muromachi period.
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