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Jikoku-ten, Guardian of the East, one of a set of four Shitenno (Guardian Figures)
1185-1333

Kamakura period

Wood and polychrome with gilt, crystal-inlaid eyes
H: 67.3 cm
Japan

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Jikoku-ten (Dhrtarastra), Guardian of the East, is one of a set of four Shitenno (guardian figures). (See also F1970.14, F1976.12, and F1978.28). These images are the guardians of the four directions, and would have been placed within a temple sanctuary protecting one or more centralized Buddhist images. They were created and positioned to be viewed frontally as a logical and dynamic composition. Each figure stands on a writhing demon, symbolizing dominance over any enemies of Buddhism.

Based on varied devotional settings, the four guardian figures hav been produced in many sizes, from more than double the size of a human, to the diminutive forms seen here, to even smaller. These lithe, animated figures are excellent examples of a hyperrealistic style that came to prominence in Japanese Buddhist sculpture in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.