Myōe as Kūkai: The Buddhalocani Painting in Kōzanji and Myōe’s Image-building Strategy

Detail of Butsugen Butsumo (Buddhalocani), National Treasure; Heian Period, 12th century; ink and color on silk; 197 x 127.9 cm; Kōzanji, Kyoto.

Ryūsuke Masuki
Associate Professor of Art History, Kobe University
Thursday, November 21, 2019, 6:00–7:00 pm

807 Schermerhorn Hall

The painting of Butsugen Butsumo (仏眼仏母 Buddhalocani) is one of the most beautiful and maternal Buddhist images to survive from late 12th century Japan. This painting’s owner was the Priest Myōe (1173-1232), the founder of the temple Kōzanji at Togano-o in the mountains west of Kyoto. Myōe inscribed the painting with the words “this is my mother” in ink and treated this painting as his mother for the rest of his life. Comparison to contemporaneous works such as the renowned Takao mandara allows us to consider that this painting was produced under the order of his masters Jōkaku and Mongaku, who gave it to Myōe. Encoded in the painting are secret messages that treat Myōe as Kūkai, who introduced Esoteric Buddhism to Japan in the 8th century and transformed the nearby temple Jingoji into an Esoteric sanctuary. Why did Mongaku and Jōkaku make such an image? This lecture will argue that the production of the Buddhalocani painting at Kōzanji was connected to larger plans to restore Jingoji and Mongaku’s attempts to revive Kūkai’s Esoteric Buddhism at the end of the 12th century.