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Notable Japanese Mandalas Go on View at Metropolitan Museum of Art
Diamond World Mandala (Kongōkai Mandara). Kamakura period (1185-1333), 13th century. Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold on silk, overall with mounting: 84 1/2 x 47 3/8 (214.7 x 127.3 cm); image: 46 11/16 x 38 7/8 in. (118.6 x 98.7 cm) Brooklyn Museum. 21.240.1. Museum Collection Fund.

NEW YORK, NY.- A loan exhibition featuring an impressive group of Japanese mandalas, graphic depictions of the Buddhist universe and its myriad realms and deities, will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 18. Showcasing more than 60 magnificent works—painting, sculpture, drawing, metalwork, stoneware, textiles, and lacquer—drawn from major museums and collections in the United States, Japanese Mandalas: Emanations and Avatars will illustrate the exceptional and complex world of Esoteric Buddhist art in Japan. Highlights of the exhibition include a set of monumental 13th-century mandalas on loan from the Brooklyn Museum—this pair was selected by the Japanese government to be conserved in Japan. Displayed in tandem with iconographic drawings that explain the character and placement of the deities, the mandalas will introduce the viewer to the supreme Buddha Dainichi Nyorai, the principle buddha of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, and his innumerable emanations and avatars across the Buddhist cosmos.

“The Brooklyn mandalas are of a type of known as the ‘Mandalas of Both Worlds’ or ‘Ryokai mandala’ and constitute the finest example of this kind in the United States,”said Sinéad Kehoe, Assistant Curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Asian Art. “Although Indian in origin, the concept of the mandala arrived in Japan from China in the early ninth century. The Chinese prototypes for the first Japanese mandalas have long since vanished, and their form is carefully preserved in Japan alone. At the same time, Japanese mandalas evolved in entirely new directions unique to Esoteric Buddhism as it has been practiced in Japan, often incorporating Shinto elements along the way.”

Esoteric Buddhism, called Mikkyoō in Japanese, has been the impetus for spectacular artistic developments in Japan since the year 806, when a Japanese monk by the name of Kūkai (774-835) returned from a voyage to China with the now-lost Chinese prototype of the paired cosmic diagrams known as the “Mandalas of Both Worlds.” From that point on, Japanese religious art and culture exploded into a myriad new directions. The original mandalas were copied and used as a powerful tool to spread the teachings of the Shingon (“True Word”), a school of Esoteric Buddhism founded by Kūkai, as well as the Esoteric teachings of the Tendai School founded by Kūkai’s fellow monk Saichō (767-822).

The exhibition is organized around three pairs of “Mandalas of Both Worlds”: one from the Muromachi period (1392-1573), consisting entirely of deities represented by Sanskrit letters; a pristine pair by Matsubara Shōgetsu from the Edo period (1615–1868) that once belonged to the powerful Tokugawa Shogunate; and the superb pair dating to the Kamakura period (1185-1333) on loan from Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition will also include an important early Esoteric Buddhist sculpture Tobatsu Bishamonten, a deity isolated from the “Mandala of Both Worlds” for individual worship, as well as a scroll from the 14th-century illustrated narrative handscroll A Long Tale for an Autumn Night, which tells of the ill-fated love affair between a senior monk and a beautiful novice.

The Museum will offer an array of educational programs in conjunction with the exhibition, including Under the Gaze of the Stars: Astral Mandalas in Medieval Japan, a lecture by Bernard Faure, Kao Professor in Japanese Religion, Columbia University (November 7), and Collectors and Collections, a panel discussion with collectors Sylvan Barnet and William Burto, moderated by Sinéad Kehoe (November 14).

During the course of the Japanese Mandalas exhibition, two other installations will take place concurrently in The Sackler Wing Galleries for the Arts of Japan.

The first installation, Astonishing Silhouettes: Western Fashion in 19th Century Japanese Prints, will explore the illustration of Western dress by Japanese ukiyo-e print artists in the latter half of the 19th century, when Japan encountered Western fashion. The installation will focus on Yokohama prints from the early 1860s showing colorful Japanese renditions of Westerners in Western dress. The installation will also display Meiji prints of the 1880s capturing members of the Japanese elite in Western clothing, which they adopted along with other elements of Western culture. A number of 19th-century French fashion illustrations and an American dress from the 1880s will be shown for comparison.

On view will include brilliantly executed Yokohama prints by ukiyo-e artists such as Gountei Sadahide (active ca. 1807-1873), Utagawa Yoshitora (active ca. 1850-1880), and Utagawa Yoshikazu (active ca. 1850-1870). A striking American dress with an emphatic bustle extending from an elongated waist will be displayed to embody the fashion silhouette of the 1880s. Drawn from the Museum’s Asian Art Department, the Costume Institute, and the Department of Drawings and Prints, the exhibition will be a debut of the Museum’s holdings in Yokohama prints from the collection of William S. Lieberman (1923–2005), former head of the Museum’s Department of Twentieth-Century Art.

The second installation will be a selection masterworks by Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891) and his contemporaries. A virtuoso in lacquer painting, Zeshin was one of the few Japanese artists of the late 19th century who had name recognition in the West. A counterpoint to Meiji print artists such as Toyohara Chikanobu (1838 - 1912), whose most famous work focused on elites in Western dress [an example included in the Astonishing Silhouettes installation,], Zeshin’s work captures the spirit of the pastimes of the commoners of the city of Edo just as it was becoming the modern-day capital of Tokyo under the new Meiji regime. The installation will include Autumn Grasses in Moonlight (ca. 1872-91), one of Zeshin’s finest known screen paintings, and a writing box with design of a gourd with butterflies (1886), a masterpiece demonstrating the artist’s technical prowess.

Metropolitan Museum of Art | Brooklyn Museum | Buddhism | Japanese | Mandalas |

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