Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Zaō Gongen

Muromachi period (1392–1573)
14th century
Wood, gilt bronze, colored beads, and crystal
H. 30 in. (76.2 cm); W. 24 in. (61 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Marielle Bancou-Segal, in memory of the vision of William Segal, 2002
Accession Number:
Not on view
This boyish figure of ferocious mien is carved of a single block of Japanese cedar (sugi), but for its separately carved limbs. His right foot is raised in a bounding leap as he brandishes a now-missing vajra in his raised right fist. He wears the Hindu dhoti, a long cloth wrapped around the waist and between the legs that, like the long scarf draped over the left shoulder, flutters with the figure's energetic movement. His hair sweeps back in flamelike tufts to frame the face. The powerful expression, with brow bulging and mouth open in a roar, is made riveting by inset crystal eyes, including a third in the center of the brow, that are painted and touched with red to appear bloodshot.

Zaō Gongen is the protective spirit of Mount Kimpu in the lovely Yoshino range south of Nara. Because he came to be venerated as a local avatar of Shaka Nyorai, Kannon Bosatsu, and Miroku Buddha—the Buddhas of past, present, and future worlds— according to a text of 1337, Kimpusen Himitsuden (Secret Traditions of Mount Kimpusen), his abode in Yoshino was seen as a Pure Land in the present world as well as in the future.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Birds, Flowers, and Buddhist Paradise Imagery in Japanese Art," February 14, 2004–June 13, 2004.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Storytelling in Japanese Art," November 19, 2011–May 6, 2012.

Related Objects

Zaō Gongen

Date: 11th century Medium: Gilt bronze with incised decoration Accession: 1975.268.155 On view in:Not on view

Standing Shiva

Date: ca. 13th century Medium: Bronze Accession: 1979.508 On view in:Gallery 240

Standing Shiva (?)

Date: 11th century Medium: Gilt-copper alloy, silver inlay Accession: 1988.355 On view in:Gallery 249

Garuda Finial

Date: ca. late 12th century Medium: Gilt bronze Accession: 2015.500.4.26 On view in:Gallery 249

The Bodhisattva Padmapani Lokeshvara

Date: 11th century Medium: Copper alloy with gilding and semiprecious stones Accession: 1982.220.2 On view in:Gallery 252