Fugen Bosatsu (Skt: Samantabhadra, National Treasure, Tokyo National Museum): An Art Historical Analysis of Its Painting Methods and the “Shôgon” Concept in Heian Period Buddhist Paintings

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  • 東京国立博物館蔵国宝・普賢菩薩像の表現および平安仏画における「荘厳」
  • トウキョウ コクリツ ハクブツカンゾウ コクホウ ・ フゲンボサツゾウ ノ ヒョウゲン オヨビ ヘイアン ブツガ ニ オケル 「 ソウゴン 」

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As one element of the joint research on Heian period Buddhist paintings being conducted by the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (NRICPT) and the Tokyo National Museum (TNM), a team including photographer Shirono Seiji has been producing highresolution digital images of the works using, in particular, different lighting angles. In section I of this article the author, one member of that study team, indicates points that can be connected to art historical issues about the National Treasure-designated Fugen Bosatsu (Tokyo National Museum), and then in section II, re-considers the differences between the concepts of sôshoku and shôgon in Heian period Buddhist paintings. Section I 1) Figure background. There is a use of graded shades of several of the colors on the depicted flowers and leaves, particularly the outline areas, and this gradation is related to giving a gentle impression. The photographs indicated the unexpected use of a coating of ultramarine blue pigment in the ground areas. 2) Shading. The red shading used on the bodhisattva’s skin is extremely intricately wrought, so that it almost disappears as it reaches the boundary areas. This set of photographs revealed no sense of vermilion particles in the red areas. The reversed shading used in the mo (skirt) was the opposite of expectations, created not by a layering of white on top of a red ground, but rather a layering of red/white/red. The composition of the color changes, including these features, can be seen as essentially the same as those found on the Kokuzo Bosatsu (Skt: Ākāśagrbha, National Treasure, TNM) and the Senjû Kannon (Skt: Sahasrabhuja, National Treasure, TNM), though points of difference exist. 3) Lines on the body. The lines used on the bodhisattva are not simply pale ink lines, but rather a softened effect was produced by brushing a thin white pigment over pale ink lines. Research is needed on whether or not this technique is related to those used in Yamato-e paintings. 4) Colors. The jewelry worn by the bodhisattva is created through a buildup of brushed on pigment. The edges of the hair that look like a single color of blue are actually a three-step application of blue colors working outward. This is probably related to a desire to enhance the expression of the roundness of the hair. The orange cloth draped over the elephant’s saddle is decorated with designs worked in curved lines of kirikane (cut gold leaf ) and straight orange lines. These straight orange lines are not pigment, but rather are shallow indentations created with a sharp implement. This detail was unexpected, as it is not visible in normal photographs or in direct viewing. 5) Gold leaf and kirikane (cut gold or silver leaf ). The leafshaped decoration in gold worn by the elephant appeared to show the use of urahaku (gold leaf applied to the back surface of the painting silk), but in fact, this gold leaf was applied to the front surface of the silk. The gold leaf appears to have intertwined with the silk threads, creating a soft expression. Colored pigments were then applied on top of this gold leaf. The red belt that circles the elephant’s body bears a lattice work design in gold kirikane, and has three or four lines of dark color following the mass contours of the elephant’s body. These were not simply drawn lines, but rather color was brushed on top of each kirikane line. There is little use of the awase-haku form of combined gold and silver leaf usage found on many Heian Buddhist paintings. Instead, the painting’s expression emerges from the changing visual effects created by the relationship between gold kirikane and the ground plane. The positioning of kirikane was not the final step in the painting process, rather, from these images we can understand that pigments were painted on after the application of kirikane. This suggests that kirikane was not seen as something separate from painting pigments, but rather was considered in fusion with them. This survey makes us realize the differences between the actual facts of the works themselves and the images of those work that we have built over time from their previous descriptions and earlier generations of photographs. Section II The observations made in Section I indicate that there was a tendency in Heian Buddhist paintings to fuse the elements of line, pigment and kirikane, and that fusion was closely related to the expressiveness of the work overall. However, as indicated by Tamamushi Satoko and others, in the early modern era in Japan the Japanese term sôshoku (装飾)came to be used as the translation of the English terms decoration or ornament. Through the extensive use of this term sôshoku, it seems that in particular this kirikane has come to be seen as a “decorative item,” thus cutting off kirikane from the work’s entirety, making it an independent form. The problem is that with the appearance of the term sôshoku, the term shôgon(荘厳), which appears extremely frequently in Buddhist sutra texts and has come to be used in Japanese, has been re-envisioned as a special type of sôshoku. However, looking at how the term shôgon was originally used, this term is not only sôshoku or decoration, but also includes a sense of the “shape” or form of the Buddhist deity, and further contains a sense of a religious symbolic meaning. A subject for future study is hence a reconsidering of the meaning of shôgon as a fundamental concept broadly supporting the expressiveness of Heian period Buddhist painting, and that reconsideration might then lead to a reconsideration of the meaning of the expression used in Heian period Buddhist painting.


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