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Gallery Text

Crafted for Japanese Buddhist image halls of the Heian (794–1185) and Kamakura (1185–1333) periods, the objects in this case were once part of magnificent architectural and sculptural ensembles intended to render the Western Pure Land of the Buddha Amitabha physically present in our earthly realm. To be reborn in the Western Pure Land guaranteed the attainment of awakening; the splendors of this distant land were evoked with gleaming, gilded sculptures of Amitabha and his heavenly entourage, including bodhisattvas and angel-like apsarases. Icons of Amitabha were further canopied with stylized flower garlands in gilt bronze.

This period saw the rise to prominence of wooden statuary, which came to surpass bronze as the main material for Japanese Buddhist sculptures thereafter. Placed within the magnificent settings of image halls, Buddhist sculptures themselves became increasingly decorative and included the extensive use of brilliant polychromy; cut-gold leaf patterning (called kirikane) in the drapery; and metal adornments for crowns, headdresses, and accessories. Despite the richness of their robes and settings, the idealized facial expressions of the figures are serene and introspective — characteristics that reflect the aesthetic ideals of the statues’ courtly patrons.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Head of a Buddha
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Nyoraizō tōbu
Work Type
sculpture, head
Late Heian period, mid 12th century
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Heian period, Late, 898-1185
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2740, Buddhist Art, The Efflorescence of East Asian and Buddhist Art
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Physical Descriptions
Wood with traces of polychromy
H. 36 x W. 21 x D. 20 cm (14 3/16 x 8 1/4 x 7 7/8 in.)
S. Morita, Nara, Japan. [Yamanaka & Co., Japan] sold; to Edward W. Forbes (by 1954), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1954.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Edward W. Forbes
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

John M. Rosenfield, Japanese Arts of the Heian Period: 794-1185, Asia Society Inc. (New York, 1968), Plate 22 / pp. 63 & 115

Exhibition History

S425: East Asian Buddhist Sculpture, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/20/1985 - 04/30/2008

Japanese Art of the Heian Period (794-1185), Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 06/06/2002 - 07/05/2002

32Q: 2740 Buddhist II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at