Buddhist altar pendant (keman)

Pendant metal disks, known as keman, are believed to have originated in floral wreaths brought as Buddhist votive offerings. In this example, the cord tied in a bow probably is based on that which originally bound garlands of real flowers. On either side of the cord are circular medallions supported upon lotus flowers. Sanskrit letters occur within the silvered medallions on both faces of the keman. Hanging from the bottom of the disk are five circular bells and two jingles. The single sheet of metal which separated the front from the back of the keman is cut into a design of lotus leaves, buds and flowers, with incised lines imparting a naturalistic appearance to the individual forms.

Historical period(s)
Kamakura period, 1185-1333
Medium
Copper with gold and silver
Dimensions
H x W x D: 44.8 x 31.5 x 2.2 cm (17 5/8 x 12 3/8 x 7/8 in)
Geography
Japan
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1974.13
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Jewelry and Ornament, Metalwork
Type

Altar pendant (keman)

Keywords
altar, Buddhism, chasing, flower, gilding, Japan, Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), lotus, piercing, repousse, WWII-era provenance
Provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable
Description

Pendant metal disks, known as keman, are believed to have originated in floral wreaths brought as Buddhist votive offerings. In this example, the cord tied in a bow probably is based on that which originally bound garlands of real flowers. On either side of the cord are circular medallions supported upon lotus flowers. Sanskrit letters occur within the silvered medallions on both faces of the keman. Hanging from the bottom of the disk are five circular bells and two jingles. The single sheet of metal which separated the front from the back of the keman is cut into a design of lotus leaves, buds and flowers, with incised lines imparting a naturalistic appearance to the individual forms.

Inscription(s)

Inscription in Siddha script.

Label

Pendants, known as keman, made of bronze, leather, or wood are hung from beams above the altars of Japanese Buddhist temples. They are decorated with floral designs inspired by the garlands of fresh flowers that were offered to Indian deities. In disks surmounting lotuses are characters representing syllables of the Indian language Sanskrit. Each character surmounts a lotus and represents the first syllable of the name of a deity. On the face, the character bhai signifies the name of the Buddha of Healing, Bhaisajya-guru, known in Japanese as Yakushi Nyorai. Although Japanese Buddhist texts are often written predominantly in Chinese, Sanskrit orthography is used for mystical incantations and in Esoteric Buddhist art.

Published References
  • Julia Murray. A Decade of Discovery: Selected Acquisitions 1970-1980. Exh. cat. Washington, 1979. cat. 41, pp. 53-54, cover.
  • Fu Shen, Glenn D. Lowry, Ann Yonemura, Thomas Lawton. From Concept to Context: Approaches to Asian and Islamic Calligraphy. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 21, pp. 70-71.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 81.
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 126-127.
  • "密教工芸 : 神秘のかたち : 特別展." Mikkyō kōgei [Applied Art of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism]. Nara. pp. 165 and 286.
  • Edwards Park. Treasures from the Smithsonian Institution., 1st ed. Washington and New York. pp. 358-59.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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