Art/ Collection/ Art Object

One of the Four Guardian Kings

Heian period (794–1185)
late 11th–early 12th century
Painted wood, ichiboku technique
H. 42 in. (106.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mary Griggs Burke, 1974
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Four Guardian Kings (Shitennō) protect the four quarters of the universe in the four cardinal directions, warding off evil and guarding the nation. In Japan they are typically placed around the main altar of a central deity, dressed as military generals, carrying an assortment of weapons and wearing ferocious expressions as they stand triumphantly over the defeated bodies of demons (symbolizing their subjugation of Buddhism’s enemies).

The Burke Collection example is carved from a single block of wood (ichiboku) and wears the Chinese military armor one expects to find in representations of guardian figures from the late Heian period.
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