Standing Junishinsho (Twelve Heavenly Generals) , Shinshin (Dragon General)


Standing Junishinsho (Twelve Heavenly Generals) , Shinshin (Dragon General)

Sculpture / Kamakura

Kamakura period, 13th century

Wood with polychromy, cut gold leaf, and inlaid crystal eyes



Important Cultural Property

The Twelve Heavenly Generals are a group of deities charged with protecting the Buddha Yakushi, or Bhaisajyaguru in Sanskirt. This figure is known as Shinshin, or the Dragon General. Fittingly, he sports a dragon with a piercing gaze on top of his head.
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 as he glares with eyebrows raised and mouth clenched tightly. He holds the sword handle in his right hand, while his right shoulder juts forward. With his right foot also planted firmly on the ground, he seems poised to strike.
The body movements 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 the works carved by Unkei, a famous Japanese sculptor. This statue seems to herald the start of a new era. The still-vivid colors provide another attractive feature alongside the dynamic sense of motion.
This work comes from a set of 12. 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 been customary in East Asia since ancient times to divide up time or directions 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 these 12 guardians of Yakushi Nyorai. This symbolizes how they continue to keep a close watch over all directions, at all times.

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