Hanging scroll: ink, color, and gold on silk
52 x 22 7/8 in. (131.9 x 57.9 cm)
Purchase, Gift of Dr. Mortimore D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family, 2006 (2006.521)
Japan's Shinto religion originally had no tradition of anthropomorphic representation of the gods, who were believed to reside in natural phenomena. The syncretism that reconciled Shintoism with Indian Buddhism led in the early thirteenth century to the creation of icons such as Shinto mandalas modeled after Buddhist schematic representations of the cosmos.
Arduous trips to the Shinto/Buddhist shrines of Kumano in the harsh mountains at the southern tip of Kii Peninsula, south of Nara, became a once-in-a-lifetime aspiration for many Japanese, inspiring the production of Kumano mandalas for worship at home as substitutes for such journeys. Like most Kumano mandalas, this example is divided into three registers, echoing the three shrines at the great Kumano complex. Except for the building interior in the center, the setting is depicted as a contiguous landscape: at the top are the northern mountain peaks shrouded in clouds; at the bottom, hills dip into the blue Pacific Ocean. Both Shinto and Buddhist deities are represented in the top and bottom sections. The middle section holds thirteen buddhas and bodhisattvas who have manifested themselves on Japanese soil as Shinto deities. The landscape and small, childlike figures painted in bright colors reflect the prevailing style of Buddhist painting in the early fourteenth century.