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UNKEI - The Great Master of Buddhist Sculpture

UNKEI - The Great Master of Buddhist Sculpture / Heiseikan Special Exhibition Galleries   September 26, 2017 (Tue) - November 26, 2017 (Sun)

  

In Japan, no Buddhist sculptor is better known than Unkei. With his extraordinary artistic talent, he led a new era in sculptural expression, creating realistic works that appear before the viewer as though they were alive. For this Special Exhibition, Unkei’s masterpieces have been brought together from across Japan. These include works from Kohfukuji temple in Nara, with which he had close relations. In addition to presenting an overview of Unkei’s life as a sculptor, the origins of Unkei’s remarkable style and its transmission will also be explored through the inclusion of works by his father, Kokei, as well as his sons, Tankei and Koben. 

Highlights of the Exhibition

General Information

Rankings 「Which of the Divine Generals would you choose as your guardian deity? Please select one from among the Twelve Divine Generals from Joruriji temple, Kyoto.」 (voting period:October 11 – November 26, 2017)

Highlights of the Exhibition

 

Part 1   From Father to Son: The Genesis of Unkei's Style
Part 2   Unkei's Style: Distinctive Sculptural Form
Part 3   Impact of Unkei's Style: Unkei's Sons and Other Sculptors of His Circle

 

 

Part 1   From Father to Son: The Genesis of Unkei's Style

Active in the early Kamakura Period, Unkei was one of the most influential artists in the history of Japanese Buddhist sculpture. As a youth, he honed his skill under the tutelage of his father Kokei, with whom he produced several collaborative works.

Kokei is thought to have been a student of the sculptor Kojo, whose main base of activity was in Nara. Around the time Kokei came to be recognized as a leading Buddhist sculptor of his day, his son and pupil Unkei produced his earliest extant work, Dainichi Nyorai (No. 4) for Enjoji temple in Nara.

The defining feature of the style perfected by the Nara-based sculptors were the clear lines created by sharp variations in the depth or shallowness of the carving. This style differed substantially from the smoother and more gentle style that had been perfected by the great sculptor Jocho, who flourished under the continued patronage of the Kyoto aristocratic elite. Both Kokei and Unkei maintained the primary features of the style they had inherited from earlier generations of Nara Buddhist sculptors but combined them with a wide range of other approaches and techniques to create their own distinctive artistic styles.

In this section, we trace their pursuit of the perfection of sculptural form by juxtaposing early works by Kokei and Unkei with pieces by other Nara Buddhist sculptors whose work directly influenced the evolution of their style.

 

Seated Dainichi Nyorai (Vairocana Tathagata)
By Unkei
Heian period, dated 1176 (Angen 2)
National Tresure
Enjoji, Nara
国宝 大日如来坐像 奈良・円成寺蔵
Photo: courtesy of Asukaen
Seated Dainichi Nyorai (Vairocana Tathagata)
By Unkei
Heian period, dated 1176 (Angen 2)
National Tresure
Enjoji, Nara
 
Buddha Head
By Unkei
Kamakura period, dated 1186 (Bunji 2)
Important Cultural Properties
Kohfukuji, Nara
重要文化財 仏頭 奈良・興福寺
Buddha Head
By Unkei
Kamakura period, dated 1186 (Bunji 2)
Important Cultural Properties
Kohfukuji, Nara
 
国宝 運慶願経(法華経巻第八)
Lotus Sutra, Volume 8, Known as Unkei gangyo ("Unkei's Sutra") (detail)
Heian period, dated 1183 (Juei 2)
National Tresure
 

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Part 2   Unkei's Style: Distinctive Sculptural Form

Unkei's original style can be observed for the first time in a set of five sculptures he carved for Ganjojuin temple in Shizuoka in 1186 (Bunji 2) at the order of the warrior Hojo Tokimasa. Judging from the quality of these images, it would appear that Unkei's artistic style had already matured fully by this time. Buddhist images produced at the behest of members of the warrior class associated with the Kamakura Shogunate make up a significant portion of Unkei's body of work. Perhaps for Unkei, such projects provided an opportunity to let his creativity run free, unconstrainted by the bounds of established tradition.

Nevertheless, it was Nara which remained the true center of Unkei's various activities. Around the year 1186 (Bunji 2), he carved the principal icon (Buddha Head, No. 6) of the newly rebuilt Western Golden Hall of Kohfukuji temple; in 1203 (Kennin 3) he fashioned a pair of enormous Vajra Warriors for Todaiji temple; and in 1212 (Kenryaku 2), he completed standing images of Mujaku Bosatsu and Seshin Bosatsu (No. 20) for the restored Northern Round Hall of Kohfukuji. Taken together, these and other works highlight the central role Unkei played in the restoration of Nara temples such as Kohfukuji and Todaiji in the wake of their destruction by the Taira forces during the Genpei Wars.

Unkei also received commissions from various aristocratic families. His rendition of the Eight Youths Attending Fudo Myo'o (No. 18) for Kongobuji temple in Wakayama imbues this group of coarse characters with an aura of intelligence and elegance on the one hand, and a brimming sense of vitality on the other.

We hope visitors will enjoy the masterful realism and powerful sense of movement characteristic of Unkei's style, which not only captures the materiality of the physical figure, but also suggests a spiritual depth not visible to the human eye.

 

Standing Bishamonten (Vaisravana)
By Unkei
Kamakura period, dated 1186 (Bunji 2)
National Tresure
Ganjojuin, Shizuoka
国宝 毘沙門天立像 静岡・願成就院蔵
Photo: Tomohiro Muda
Standing Bishamonten (Vaisravana)
By Unkei
Kamakura period, dated 1186 (Bunji 2)
National Tresure
Ganjojuin, Shizuoka
 
Standing Eight Youth Attendants of Fudo Myo'o (Acala Vidyaraja): Seitaka figure and Eko figure
By Unkei
Kamakura period, ca. 1197 (Kenkyu 8)
National Tresure
Kongobuji, Wakayama
国宝 八大童子立像のうち恵光童子・制多伽童子 和歌山・金剛峯寺蔵
Eko (left), Seitaka (right)
Photo: Koyasan Reihokan Museum
Standing Eight Youth Attendants of Fudo Myo'o (Acala Vidyaraja): Seitaka and Eko
By Unkei
Kamakura period, ca. 1197 (Kenkyu 8)
National Tresure
Kongobuji, Wakayama
 
Seated Amida Nyorai and Two Standing Attendants *To be exhibited from October 21
Standing Fudo Myo'o (Acala Vidyaraja)
Standing Bishamonten (Vaisravana)
By Unkei
Kamakura period, dated 1189 (Bunji 5)
Important Cultural Property
Jorakuji, Kanagawa
Important Cultural Property Seated Amida Nyorai and Two Standing Attendants
Seated Amida Nyorai and Two Standing Attendants
Photo: Tomohiro Muda
Seated Amida Nyorai and Two Standing Attendants
Photo: Tomohiro Muda
Seated Amida Nyorai and Two Standing Attendants *on exhibit from October 21
Standing Fudo Myo'o (Acala Vidyaraja)
Standing Bishamonten (Vaisravana)
By Unkei
Kamakura period, dated 1189 (Bunji 5)
Important Cultural Property
Jorakuji, Kanagawa
 
Standing Mujaku Bosatsu (Asanga Bodhisattva) and Seshin Bosatsu (Vasubandhu Bodhisattva)
By Unkei
Kamakura period, ca. 1212 (Kenryaku 2)
National Tresure
Kohfukuji, Nara
国宝 無著菩薩立像・世親菩薩立像 奈良・興福寺蔵
Standing Seshin Bosatsu (Vasubandhu Bodhisattva) (left)
Standing Mujaku Bosatsu (Asanga Bodhisattva) (right)
Photo: Tomohiro Muda
Standing Seshin Bosatsu (Asanga Bodhisattva) (left)
Standing Mujaku Bosatsu (Vasubandhu Bodhisattva) (right)
Photo: Tomohiro Muda
Standing Mujaku Bosatsu (Asanga Bodhisattva) and Seshin Bosatsu (Vasubandhu Bodhisattva)
By Unkei
Kamakura period, ca. 1212 (Kenryaku 2)
National Tresure
Kohfukuji, Nara
 
Displayed for the first time outside Takisanji 

 

Standing Shokannon Bosatsu (Aryavalokitesvara)
By Unkei and Tankei
Kamakura period, ca. 1201 (Shoji 3)
National Tresure
Takisanji, Aichi
重要文化財 聖観音菩薩立像 愛知・瀧山寺蔵
Photo: Tomohiro Muda
Displayed for the first time outside Takisanji 

 

Standing Shokannon Bosatsu (Aryavalokitesvara)
By Unkei and Tankei
Kamakura period, ca. 1201 (Shoji 3)
National Tresure
Takisanji, Aichi
 

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Part 3   Impact of Unkei's Style: Unkei's Sons and Other Sculptors of His Circle

Unkei had six sons, all of whom became Buddhist sculptors. Sculptures by Tankei, Koben, and Kosho survive to this day. The present exhibition focuses particularly on the work of Tankei and Koben.

As Unkei's successor, Tankei headed the Kei school of Buddhist sculpture until the middle of the 13th century. Several of his works are extant, including the seated image of the Thousand-Armed Kannon Bosatsu that serves as the principal icon of the Sanjusangendo hall of Rengeoin temple in Kyoto. Perhaps because it was produced in collaboration with the sculptor Kaikei, this image evokes Kaikei's refined and serene style more strongly than Unkei's powerful and dramatic approach. Other images by Tankei, such as his realistic and sensitive renderings of animals and young attendants, however, do hint at the influence of Unkei's work, to which Tankei added an individual note all of his own.

Unkei's influence is more readily apparent in the standing image of the demon Ryutoki (No.35), whose realistically rendered musculature suggests that its sculptor, Koben, may well have used an actual wrestler as his model.

The large groups of works to which Unkei might have contributed, or which were carved by his successors or contemporaries play an essential role in defining the sculptural style of this artistic genius. In this section, we therefore aim to give a sense of the diffusion of Unkei's style, both in his own time, and in the generation that followed.

 

All 12 brought together for the first time in 42 years 

 

the Twelve Divine Generals
Attributed to the collection of Joruriji temple, Kyoto
Kamakura period, 13th century
Important Cultural Properties
Shishin (rat), Chushin (ox), Inshin (tiger), Boshin (rabbit), Goshin (horse), Yushin (rooster) and Gaishin (boar), Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo
Shinshin (dragon), Mishin (sheep), Shishin (snake), Jutsushin (dog) and Shinshin (monkey), Tokyo National Museum

重要文化財 十二神将立像(亥神)  京都・浄瑠璃寺伝来
Gaishin (boar)
Photo: Kyoto National Museum, Ai Okada
All 12 brought together for the first time in 42 years 

 

the Twelve Divine Generals
Attributed to the collection of Joruriji temple, Kyoto
Kamakura period, 13th century
Important Cultural Properties
Shishin (rat), Chushin (ox), Inshin (tiger), Boshin (rabbit), Goshin (horse), Yushin (rooster) and Gaishin (boar), Seikado Bunko Art Museum, Tokyo
Shinshin (dragon), Mishin (sheep), Shishin (snake), Jutsushin (dog) and Shinshin (monkey), Tokyo National Museum

 
Standing Demons Tentoki and Ryutoki
by Koben (Ryutoki)
Kamakura period, dated 1215 (Kenpo 3)
National Tresure
Kohfukuji, Nara
国宝 天燈鬼立像・龍燈鬼立像 奈良・興福寺蔵
Ryutoki (left), Tentoki (right)
Photo: Tomohiro Muda
Standing Demons Tentoki and Ryutoki
by Koben (Ryutoki)
Kamakura period, dated 1215 (Kenpo 3)
National Tresure
Kohfukuji, Nara
 

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General Information

Period Tuesday, September 26 - Sunday, November 26, 2017
Venue Heiseikan, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Hours 9:30 - 17:00, Fridays, Saturdays and November 2 until 21:00
(Last entry 30 minutes before closing)
Closed Mondays (Except for October 9)
Admission Adults: 1600 (1400/1300) yen
University students: 1200 (1000/900) yen
High school students: 900 (700/600) yen
Junior high school students and under: Free 
* Prices shown in parentheses indicate advance and group (more than 20 persons) discount tickets.
* Persons with disabilities are admitted free with one accompanying person each (please present an ID at the ticket booth).
*

Advance tickets will be on sale at the museum ticket booths (during museum opening hours excluding the last 30 minutes) and other major ticketing agencies from July 1, 2017 to September 25, 2017.
* Advance pair tickets (two admissions, 2600 yen) will be on sale major ticketing agencies from May 2 to May 31, 2017. End of sales

Special exhibitions "The Living Treasures of France" (Tuesday, September 12 - Sunday, November 26, 2017 Hyokeikan) requires separate admission fees.
Access 10 minutes' walk from JR Ueno Station (Park exit) and Uguisudani Station
15 minutes' walk from Keisei Ueno Station, Tokyo Metro Ueno Station and Tokyo Metro Nezu Station
Organizers Tokyo National Museum, Kohfukuji, The Asahi Shimbun,
TV Asahi Corporation
With the Sponsorship of Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Co., Ltd., Kajima Corporation,
East Japan Railway Company, Daiwa Securities Group,
Toppan Printing Co., Ltd.
With the Cooperation of Kanagawa Prefectural Kanazawa-Bunko Museum, Shogakukan Inc.,
BIC CAMERA
With the Support of TOKYO FM
Catalog, Audio guide The exhibition catalog (3,000 yen) is available at the Heiseikan Special Exhibition Shop and at the museum shop in Honkan (Japanese Gallery). Audio guide (Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean) is available for 520 yen.
General Inquiries 03-5777-8600  (Hello Dial)
Exhibition Website http://unkei2017.jp/en/

 

Related Events

Heiseikan Auditorium  October 1, 2017 (Sun)   13:30 - 15:00   RESERVE_DAY
Heiseikan Auditorium  October 31, 2017 (Tue)   14:00 - 14:30   RESERVE_DAY

Related Exhibition

 The Influence of the Buddhist Sculptor Unkei: With a Focus on Koen and Zen’en Honkan Room 14 August 29, 2017 (Tue) - December 3, 2017 (Sun)
 This thematic exhibition explores how sculptors inherited and transformed the style of Unkei in the Kamakura period (1192–1333).