The Sheep General, One of the Twelve Divine Generals


The Sheep General, One of the Twelve Divine Generals

Sculpture / Kamakura

Kamakura period, 13th century

Painted wood with gold and crystal (eyes)



Important Cultural Property

The Twelve Heavenly Generals are a group of deities charged with protecting Yakushi Nyorai, or Bhaisajyaguru in Sanskirt. This statue depicts Mishin, or the Sheep General, so named after one of the twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac.
This statue was carved from the wood of a cypress tree, with color then applied to the entire surface. He wears armor and carries a sword, with his face inclined slightly as he glares diagonally downwards. A sense of physical power and muscular tension is conveyed by the outstretched arms and a right leg that points outward. The bristles of hair sweeping back from the head also create a powerful impression. The body movements also convey a sense of spatial depth. This, together with the realistic expressions and the sharp, refined shape, are characteristic features of statuary that emerged from the end of the 12th century, as epitomized by works carved by Unkei, a famous Japanese sculptor. This statue seems to herald the start of a new era. The still-vivid colors provide a further highlight alongside the dynamic motion.
This was originally from a set of 12 Heavenly Generals. The other 11 statues are also still with us today. Like this example, they also wear depictions of creatures from the Chinese Zodiac on their heads. Tokyo National Museum is home to five of these statues. The number of generals corresponds to the 12 vows made by Yakushi Nyorai to save all sentient beings. Furthermore, it has long been custom in East Asia to divide time or directions up into 12 units and then allocate a different animal to each one. The Chinese Zodiac is still familiar to many people today. The signs of the Chinese Zodiac were also assigned to the guardians of Yakushi Nyorai. In a sense, this symbolizes how they continue to keep a close watch over all directions at all times.

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