A Lacquered Amida Nyorai Wood Figure, Japanese Master

Japanese master

A Lacquered Amida Nyorai Wood Figure

Japan, 19th century, late Edo period (1615-1868)

Height 55 cm (figure), 78 cm (incl. stand)


Covered in black, red, and olive-brown lacquer seated in royal ease (lalitasana) on a lotus pedestal supported by a compressed orb above a tiered pedestal with lotus petals, diapered ground, and chased gilt-metal supports, Amida resting his left leg on a finely formed lotus petal bending beneath his foot. Assembled in yosegi-zukuri and finely carved, Amida is holding his left hand semui-in (abhaya mudra), the other lowered on his lap, wearing flowing robes opening at the chest, cascading in voluminous folds, and held by a gilt-lacquer clasp decorated with lotus petals and nyoi scepter heads. His face set with a serene expression with downcast eyes and rock crystal byakugo (urna), his hair arranged in tight curls over the domed ushnisha with a further rock crystal inlay.

The sculpture represents Amitabha, known in Japanese as Amida Nyorai, or the Buddha of Limitless Light. Amitabha reigns over the Western Pure Land, a paradise to which anyone is welcomed if they faithfully and sincerely incant his name. This place of salvation became central to the Jodo [lit. Pure Land] sect of Buddhism. Propounded in 1175 by the monk Honen, the accessibility of such tenets of redemption allowed this form of Buddhism to proliferate across the nation and feudal classes of Japan. Often depicted with an elaborate mandala, the boat-shaped halo is said to remind his followers that he serves as a guide for them to cross the ocean of suffering which contaminates the living.

Yosegi-zukuri, or joined wood-block construction, is a sculpting method in which several rectangular blocks of wood are individually selected and carved into shapes. Yosegi-zukuri, together with ichiboku-zukuri (single block construction), are the two main techniques associated with wood sculpture in Japan. There were several advantages of a sculpture made from multiple blocks of wood. It was much lighter than one carved out of a single block of wood. The technique also helped to minimize the cracking of the wood caused by the outside layer drying faster than the core of the sculpture.


Private collection, Japan
Private collection, France
Private collection, Zürich, Switzerland

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