Vaishravana (Bishamonten), Guardian King of the North
Artist not known
Edo Period (1615-1868), Japan
Gold and colored paint on lacquered wood statue with ornate and intricate carving.
Asian Art Museum, Civic Center, San Francisco
Bishamonten stands proud with a foot firmly stepped upon a demon; In his left hand he holds a miniature stupa and in his right a golden spear pointed up towards the sky. This piece has an ethereal feel, it is handsomely ornate and divinely crafted. The rich attention to detail is both exquisite and represents a fundamental design aspect of Japanese art and culture. His face holds a menacing glance as his eyes look downward. When you look into his eyes they appear so fierce its as if he is judging your soul. His arms are raised in battle stance and the posing causes the art to feel as if it were in motion and alive. He wears multiple layers of celestial-like robes and sashes colored in varying hues of blue. Atop his robes is a set of heavy armor that is colored red, yellow, and dark blue. He is depicted as otherworldly, while his bodily proportions are realistic his other features are not based in reality. For instance, his eyes have no pupils and he is facing off against a demon. The pedestal of the statue is carved into organic free forms, below the demon, which resemble clouds. These feelings of divination, levitation, and celestial presence gives the art a god-like quality. It is a statue representation of the Buddhist god, Bishamonten (Guardian King of the North), of wealth, victory, and good fortune. In his right hand he holds a stupa which symbolizes the knowledge of Buddhism and the achievement of enlightenment. The spear he holds as well as the position in which he holds it in shows strength, courage, and power. The spearhead is pointed perfectly upright towards the sky and looks as though it could strike the heavens. The demon underfoot appears cowardly and weak as his eyes perilously look up at the god. The demon embodies evil and Bishamonten has stomped it out; this combination of iconography portrays victory and justice. This artwork is practical and serves functional and religious purposes. It is the sort of statue that would be placed on an altar inside the walls of a Buddhist temple. It is designed for public consumption and has aesthetically pleasing features that pertain to Japanese cultural values.
The composition of this work begins with the balance of the piece which is formal and asymmetrical. The pose of the statue is very similar to a contrapposto and appears to have been somewhat influenced by it. The god leans into his left hip and has left shoulder slightly raised; this asymmetry complements the warrior stance of the art and serves to portray strength in addition to natural beauty. One...