A large sphere outlined in luminous, thinly cut gold leaf (kirikane) appears to be suspended, weightless, in an otherwise empty space, the figure within materializing like an apparition from the surrounding darkness. Although he is seated on a pink-and-white lotus pedestal in the manner of a Buddhist deity, his garb is that of a layperson. Wearing a kimono and a long sleeveless jacket bearing designs of cherry blossoms, butterflies, and swallows, and with his hair parted in the middle and tied above his ears, he epitomizes a youth of noble birth. The only jarring note is the long sword that he holds in his hands.
The portrait, a conflation of Buddhist and secular images, represents Wakamiya (young [waka] shrine, or prince [miya]), the god enshrined at Kasuga. The youthful deity first revealed his presence at Kasuga in 1003, and in 1135 was installed at the Wakamiya Shrine, in the southern section of the Kasuga precinct. His honji, or Buddhist equivalent, is identified either as Monju (Skt: Manjushri) or Jūichimen (Eleven-Headed) Kannon (Ekadashamukha). Monju, the Buddhist god of wisdom, is often represented as a youthful figure, to symbolize the deity's immaculate thoughts; as a princely deity, Wakamiya was regarded as having a similarly pure nature. More important, in the agrarian society within which the Kasuga cult was formulated, youth signified the cyclical resurgence of energy and vitality in the natural world. It is not known when the representation of Wakamiya was incorporated into the imagery of the Kasuga cult. Only a small number of Wakamiya paintings are extant, each iconographically unique. This would suggest that a strict iconographic type for the god never really developed. The earliest known example depicts the youthful Monju manifesting himself as Wakamiya; it serves as the frontispiece of the Kongō han 'nya haramitsukyō (Skt: Vajracchedikaprajnaparamitasutra ), which was found in the cavity of a wooden sculpture of Monju riding a lion and escorted by four attendants. According to the dedicatory message on one of the twelve documents found within the statue, it was commissioned by the monk Kyōgen of Kōfukuji from Kōen (1207–ca. 1285), a grandson of Unkei, the leading sculptor of the early Kamakura period. Kyōgen, who also copied out the accompanying text of the Kongō Hannya haramitsukyō in August 1273, noted in his dedicatory essay that he had been visited in a dream by an apparition of the young Wakamiya, among cherry blossoms in the fields of Kasuga; the god looked about fourteen or fifteen years old and was attended by three Shinto priests. The frontispiece, which includes the figure of Kyōgen and is in an unusually fine state of preservation, shows Wakamiya standing amid the lush Kasuga foliage dressed in courtly robes and surrounded by white cherry blossoms, just as he must have appeared in Kyōgen's dream.
The fact that Kyōgen intended the painting to represent the vision from his dream indicates that he was dissatisfied with existing Kasuga iconography and wanted something new and different. A visually appealing dream seems to have been a convenient device for effecting change. Images available as models must have resembled the late Kamakura painting formerly in the Nakamura Gakuryō collection, Zushi, that depicts the young Monju astride a lion, the Kasuga precinct visible in the background. Because the frontispiece was meant to be placed inside a Monju-and-lion sculpture, Kyōgen may have wanted to avoid repetition by using an entirely new pictorial presentation of the deity. His dream image of Wakamiya in the guise of a young courtier was the answer.
A much later work, in the collection of Peter and Doris Drucker (fig. 27), reflects an effort to conflate a number of diverse elements: the sun and moon; the Deer mandala of the Kasuga Shrine (cat. no. 33); the eight Shinto gods enshrined in the Kasuga area; Mount Mikasa, with its five Kasuga Shrine buildings; and the shrine's torii gate. Set against this complex background is the figure of the child-god riding a lion.
A copy of a painting made by Tosa Mitsuteru in 1893 suggests the existence of yet another iconic representation of Wakamiya. It depicts the deity dressed as a nobleman and riding a deer under flowering branches of wisteria (J: fuji), an obvious allusion to the Fujiwara clan, founders of the Kasuga Shrine.
The Burke painting, by eliminating all narrative elements, focuses on the ethereal form of Wakamiya, emphasizing the sanctity of the childlike figure. Only the designs on the garments—the cherry blossoms from Kyōgen's dream and the butterflies and swallows suggestive of the Elysian fields of Kasuga—recall the more descriptive representations of the deity. A strong Buddhist influence may have helped to produce this special type of iconography. An iconographic type of the Buddhist holy man Kūkai (774–835), founder of the Shingon branch of Esoteric Buddhism, is nearly identical in composition to the Burke painting: there, the child monk, enclosed within a golden disk, seems also to float in space.
The circle that frames the figure of Wakamiya can be variously interpreted. In traditional religious iconography, its most prevalent use is as a halo placed behind the head of an icon. Buddhist and Shinto deities in Japan are sometimes shown within a circular format to identify them as heavenly beings, remote from the ordinary world. At other times a circle may symbolize a mirror, which reflects the true image. The circle was also used in Zen art as a symbol of the primary Zen principle of perfection and completion (see cat. no. 42).
[Miyeko Murase, Bridge of Dreams, 2000]
 The Jūichimen Kannon is depicted in the Kasuga Shrine mandala (cat. no. 31); Monju is represented in the Kasuga Deer mandala (cat. no. 33).
 Kageyama Haruki 1975, p. 9·
 Kaneko Hiroaki 1992, fig. 8.
 The sculpture is one of a group originally from Kōfukuji, Nara; it is now in the Tokyo National Museum. See ibid., fig. 6.
 Gotoh Museum 1964, no. 21.
 Nara National Museum 1964a, no. 19.
 Kawai Masatomo 1986, no. 3.
 Kyoto Municipal University of the Arts Archives 1993, no. 100.