Flying Celestial

  • Japan
  • late Heian period
  • 11c
  • Wood
Catalogue Entry

This bodhisattva-style figure wears a johaku decorative scarf on its upper body and a skirt-like kun from the waist down. It is flying through the air with the lower part of its body arched upward. Images of flying celestial beings (hiten) decorate the halos of many Buddhist statues, and the hiten halo (hitenko) style is thought to have begun with the work of sculptor Jocho (? - 1057). Such celestials are generally depicted as riding on clouds and either playing music or posturing in prayer. The present work is thus unique in that it is not riding on a cloud. It is also conjectured to be based on Nara-period halos and thus to represent the oldest style of hitenko. The celestial being has a slightly oversize head with eyes and nose that are also rather large, indicating an old style dating from Jocho’s time. This is one of the works that helped to establish the hitenko as an important device in Japanese Buddhist sculpture.