A Moment of Zen

The Buddha, a little shy hippopotamus and a dream robe.

Buddha Mahavairocana (Dainichi Nyorai), ca. 1150-1200
Cryptomeria wood

This sculpture was originally the main figure of worship in a temple, surrounded by other Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and guardian figures. Visitors would have come to pray or attend rituals and sutra readings performed by monks. The RISD Museum acquired the statue in the 1930s. Records state it was the principal image of Rokuon-ji, a Shingon sub-temple in Hyogo Prefecture, along Japan’s Inland Sea. Legend has it that the temple was destroyed by fire hundreds of years ago but that the statue was stored in a nearby farmhouse until 1933, when it was brought to the U.S. by the Japanese art dealer Yamanaka. The largest wooden Japanese sculpture in the United States, it was constructed from 11 hollowed and carved pieces of wood. Its simple surfaces and serene expression are representative of the late Heian Period.

Middle Kingdom to Second Intermediate Period, Dynasty 11-13
Hippopotamus, 2040-1638 BCE

Robe, 1800s
Silk tapestry weave (kesi) with handpainted decoration and applied compound-weave ribbon

RISD Museum, Providence, RI

November 23rd, 2018

East meeting West in the Harvard Museums of Art

I already mentioned in the first part of this series, that the Harvard Art Museums collection spans centuries, styles and continents. Even a brief walk through the galleries proves this to be quite true. See, for example, how the display of objects from ancient Eastern civilizations is arranged so that they blend seamlessly with art from the 18th century.

Head of a Buddha
Gandharan, Kushan period, 2nd century AD
From Pakistan. Dark grey schist

”With small mouth, slender nose, crisp, planar intersection of forehead and eyes and wavy locks of hair, this idealized image of a Buddha bears all the Classical features of Greek-inspired Gandharan sculptures.”

Attributed to Kaikei (active c. 1183-c. 1236)
Left Hand of a Colossal Amitābha Buddha (Amida)
Japanese, Kamakura period, late 12th-early 13th century
Wood, lacquer and gold

”The third and fourth fingers of this enormous left hand in the centre of the gallery, sculpted in a palm-up posture, would originally have curled upward to the thumb as part of a symbolic hand gesture, or mudra. Recent scholarly detective work has established that this hand belonged to a 16-foot standing Amida Buddha, installed at Shin-Daibutsu-ji Temple in Mie prefecture in central Japan. The sculpture’s right hand would have been held pendant, palm facing outward to complete the mudra, which is known in Japanese as the sakate raigō-in, or ”gesture of welcome to the soul of the deceased with upturned palm”.”

Inkstone Box (Suzuribako)
Japanese, Edo period, late 17th-early 18th century
Lacquer on wood with decoration in gold, silver and sabi urushi (thick lacquer paste) utilizing the hiramaki-e (low-relief sprinkled design), takamaki-e (high-relief sprinkled design) and nashiji (”pear-skinned” ground) techniques, with applied kirikane (cut gold and silver) and with sheet-lead inlays; stone and metal fittings

Pair of Jade Circular Table Screens
Mounted on Cloisonné Stands
Chinese, Quing dynasty, 19th century
Dark green nephrite (so-called spinach green jade); stands made of enamels on brass

”Table screens such as this pair were intended for decorative display within a scholar’s studio.  The flamboyancy of these ornate, deeply carved screens and cloisonné stands suggests that they were likely made for a scholar’s studio within a palace, as the environs of a typical Confucian scholar’s studio would have been more restrained.”

Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)
Susanna Steuart Tilghman (Mrs. James Tilghman), 1775
Oil on canvas

”Charles Willson Peale, who founded one of the first museums in America, began his career as a portraitist. He spent his early years in Annapolis and during the Revolutionary period enjoyed the patronage of prominent landed families in the area. Susanna Steuart Tilghman and her husband, James, helped fund Peale’s travel to London where he studied with the expatriate American painter Benjamin West. Emulating the grand patrons of Europe, the Tilghmans and their peers helped launch Peale’s distinguished career, which would include commissions from important dignitaries and would culminate in the founding of the Philadelphia Museum. Housing natural history specimens and portraits of Revolutionary heroes, the museum opened in the city’s Independence Hall in 1786.”

Otto van Meurs (1714-1783)
Case, mounts and face by unidentified artists
Long Case Musical Clock, ca. 1750-75
Oak with burl walnut veneer, mahogany inlay (possibly with later additions), walnut moldings and a gilt brass mount; silvered, gilt and pained brass dial

”Crafted by one of the leading clockmakers in 18th-century Amsterdam, this clock displays important information but is also a richly symbolic object. Its elaborately ornamented dial keeps time and indicates the day of the week, the month, the phase of the moon, the lunar date and the tides. The case, inlaid with woods imported from around the world, is adorned with a gilt brass mount showing Father Time holding an hourglass. Finials representing Atlas and a pair of trumpeting angels rise at the top of the pediment.
The true marvel of this clock is its music. To mark the hour, a set of ten carillon bells powered by an internal gear train sounds on of eight popular tunes.”

Paintings on the left & right side of the clock are by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Left: Sarah Morecock Boylston (Mrs. Thomas Boylston), 1766 – Oil on canvas
Right: Thomas Boylston II, ca. 1767-69 – Oil on canvas

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Major General August de la Motte, 1787
Oil on canvas

Colonel Ernst August von Hugo and Lieutenant Colonel von Schlepegrell, 1787
Oil on canvas

Colonel Gustav Friedrich von Dachenhausen, 1787
Oil on canvas

”In 1783, the City of London commissioned Copley to create a large public painting commemorating Britain’s victory over the French and Spanish navies at the Siege of Gibraltar in 1782. These portraits were preparatory studies for that painting.”

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
Young Girl Reading, ca. 1770
Oil on canvas

On loan to the Harvard Art Museums from the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Harvard Museums of Art, Boston

May 3rd, 2017

Crossroads of Civilization || Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Head of the Buddha

A very early image of the Buddha, this serenely beautiful head was once framed by a halo and joined to a complete figure. The Buddha’s downward gaze conveys that he is meditating. His cranial bump (ushnisha), which signifies transcendent wisdom, and his forehead dot (urna) are marks of his perfected nature. The sculpture was created for a monastic complex in ancient Gandhara, a region that now spans Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the third century, Gandhara was a crossroads that united the Greco-Roman world with India, and the Buddha’s wavy hair recalls classical images of Apollo.

Pakistan (ancient Gandhara)
3rd century

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

April 25th, 2017