Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan Exhibition Spotlight- Spring

Throughout the course of Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan, we’ll be featuring some of our favorite works of art from the exhibition and providing a more in-depth look at some of our favorite pieces.

This week we’re featuring three remarkable pieces from Phase Two of the collection, which will be on display March 28-June 4, and is devoted to themes of spring:

Kitchen model

This meticulous work is on loan from the Museum of Omihachiman City—Grand Rapids’ Sister City in the Shiga Prefecture. It is a perfect scale model of a traditional Japanese kitchen and its wide range of instruments and utensils. Originally, it would have been commissioned by a wealthy merchant family for young children. More than simply a toy, it would have been essential to their success in future life. Note the complete mastery of numerous materials in wood, metal and ceramic, which replicate everyday objects in minute detail.

Miniature kitchen model
Shōwa Period, 20th Century
Wood, material, stoneware
Collection of Omihachiman City
Courtesy of The Museum of Omihachiman City

Koto Ware

Koto Ware, a highly refined form of ceramics from Shiga Prefecture, flourished in 19th century. The kiln where this nest box was created opened in 1842 in the city of Hikone, and produced luxury items until 1862. The delicacy and decoration of Koto Ware was the antithesis to the irregular shape and earthy colors and textures of Shigaraki pottery.

This multi-tiered stackable box was meticulously made and decorated by hand. The square shape and flat bottoms of each level would have been difficult to create and could only have been produced by an artist of the highest skill. It originally functioned as a type of luxury lunch box perhaps given as a royal gift and used only for special guests.

The namesake decorative elements of the peacock and peony are found across the exterior. Such forms were undoubtedly influenced by the art of China. So too, the use of porcelain with blue underglaze also evidences an interest in Chinese art and pottery.

Koto Ware, Nest of boxes with peacock and peony
Edo Period, 19th Century
Porcelain with blue underglaze
The Museum of Shiga Prefecture, Biwako-Bunkakan

Dainnichi Nyorai

This figure represents the central deity of Esoteric Buddhism. Simply put, he represents the Supreme Buddha seated atop the iconic lotus flower. Traces of gold leaf can be found across the surface of the cast bronze figure suggesting the prominence of the sculpture. An extremely rare loan from the Binman-ji Temple, this sculpture is among the oldest objects on display in this exhibition. Located in the rural city of Taga Town, this temple was one of the most visited and prosperous temples of medieval Japan (13th-16th century).

The firmly seated position and contemplative demeanor are iconic for Buddhist statuary. Although the body and floral form are decidedly iconic, there is a strong vertical structure to this composition. One can easily follow a visual central core that stretches from the conical headdress through the torso of the figure down to the pedestal upon which the Buddha rests. Such a strong central core grants the illusion of monumentality to the sculpture.

Dainichi Nyorai

Kamakura Period, 13th Century
Cast bronze
Collection of the Preservation Meeting of Binman-ji Temple’s Historic Relics and Culture
Courtesy of the Museum of Taga Town

Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan Exhibition Spotlight – Sculpture

Throughout the course of Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan, we’ll be featuring some of our favorite works of art from the exhibition and providing a more in-depth look at some of these pieces.

This week, we’re featuring two pieces of sculpture from the collection:

Buddha at Birth

This rare sculpture from the 8th century describes the infant Buddha. According to tradition, the infant took seven steps from his mother, pointed to the heavens and declared he was venerable on both heaven and earth while under his feet lotus flowers bloomed. The sculpture describes a very young figure pointing to the heavens with his right hand and to the earth with his left hand; beneath his feet is a stylized representation of a lotus flower. Figures such as this were placed on display at festivals celebrating the Buddha’s birth on April 8. Then, it would have been surrounded by flowers and sweet tea poured over the figure. The latter possibly accounts for the surface colors seen today.  On loan from the Daiko-ji Temple, it is one of several Buddhist devotional figures and accessories which will be on display over the course of the exhibition.

Buddha at Birth
Nara Period, 8th Century
Cast bronze
Collection of Daiko-ji Temple
Courtesy of The Museum of Shiga Prefecture, Biwako-Bunkakan

Seated Senju Kannon

The ancient bronze shown above,Seated Senju Kannon, is on loan through the Kannon-ji Temple located on the shores of Lake Biwa in the center of the Shiga Prefecture. It represents the God of Mercy who, according to Buddhist beliefs, has the highest rank after the Buddha himself. The figure is described with multiple arms at his sides and multiple heads atop his head symbolizing a thousand armed and a thousand eyed deity capable of managing everything in the universe and able to save all situations in the world. A subject of great devotion, this deity also appears frequently in traditional paintings from the 16th through the 18th centuries. Careful observation of this bronze form reveals traces of gold leaf indicating the sculpture was at one time completely gilded. This is another of the several Buddhist devotional figures and accessories that will be on display over the course of the exhibition.

Seated Senju Kannon
Edo Period, 17th Century
Cast bronze
Collection of the Kannon-ji Temple
Courtesy of The Museum of Shiga Prefecture, Biwako-Bunkakan

Click HERE to learn more about our Splendors of Shiga: Treasures from Japan exhibition.