The Buddha Shaka with the Six Patriarchs


The Buddha Shaka with the Six Patriarchs

Paintings / Kamakura

Kamakura period, 13th century

Color on silk



The Buddhist sects that flourished in Japan’s ancient capital, called Heijo-kyo, during the 8th century are called the “Six Schools of Nara Buddhism.” In an unusual choice of subjects, the founders of those sects along with the founder of the Tendai sect are depicted with the buddha Shaka in this piece.

The buddha Shaka is placed in the center, surrounded by the other six figures. The piece does not make use of the colorful and often gold-laden ornamental style common in 11th-to-12th-century Buddhist art, but it does feature strong lines and distinct coloration.

In the 11th century, it was widely believed in Japan that the world had entered the third and final age of the Three Ages of Buddhism. This final age was perceived to be an age of decline in which enlightenment could not be attained and chaos had spread through society. This eventually led to the development of new schools of Buddhism in the mid-13th century, emphasizing objectives other than enlightenment. In opposition to this, Nara Buddhism focused on returning to the original teachings of the buddha Shaka, leading to a revival movement. This piece is thought to have been created in conjunction with this movement in the world of Nara Buddhism.

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