Flying Celestial

  • Heian period
  • 11c
  • Wood with gold leaf over lacquer
  • W-25
Catalogue Entry

Late Heian period, 11th century
Wood with lacquer-applied gilding
Width (from right shoulder to left foot), 25.0cm

The Buddhist sculptor Jocho carved a nimbus decorated with flying celestials, and it resembled Nara period nimbuses in that flying celestials were placed around the edge of the nimbus. The nimbus attached to Jocho's carving of Amida Nyorai (Amitabha 1053) in the Phoenix Hall of Byodoin has Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana)placed at the top of the nimbus, and six Bosatsu (Bodhisattvas) arranged to the right and left of this Dainichi image. All of these Bosatsu are seen either playing musical instruments or in a kuyo memorial type of pose sitting on top of clouds. These Bosatsu from the so-called Jocho style of flying celestial nimbus may be shown in fewer number, or standing instead of seated, but they are always shown riding on clouds.

This image is an example of those now-lost celestials who would have originally been seen flying without clouds between these Bosatsu. Jocho used pre-Nara period nimbuses as his models, and this kind of flying form of Bosatsu is thought to have been common during that period. Thus, this kind of flying celestial can be thought to convey the oldest form of flying celestial nimbus. The large mouth and eyes and the big body are extremely old in style, and as this celestial is thought to date back to the 11th century, this work helps our understanding of the establishment of the flying celestial nimbus form.
The figure has been attached to a piece of construction wood that has no relationship to the image itself. SI