Download 6872 A pair of wood and lacquer komainu (guardian dogs). Japan

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6872 A pair of wood and lacquer komainu (guardian dogs).
Japan 16th/17th century Muromachi/Momoyama period
Dimensions (each): H. 17¾" x W. 18¼" (45cm x 46cm)
The literal translation of komainu is "Korean dog". A pair of lion-like guardian figures which are often
placed at each side of a shrine or temple entrance in order to ward off evil spirits. Thought to have been
brought to Japan from China via Korea, their name is derived from Koma, the Japanese term for the
Korean kingdom of Koguryo.
The lions in stone or bronze relief as temple decorations in the Nara period (710-794) belong to a
sculptural tradition that can be traced back to the Buddhist art of India and China. Images of the seated
Buddha often include lions at his left and right, both to underscore his majesty and to protect him.
In the early Heian period (9th century) the two guardian statues were clearly differentiated. The figure
which stood on the right, komainu, resembled a dog with its mouth open (agyou) and sometimes
sported a short horn; the figure on the left, shishi, resembled a lion with its mouth closed (ungyou).
Gradually the term komainu came to be used for both statues, and their shapes became
indistinguishable except for the open and closed mouths (a-un).
These features were perhaps inspired by niō (two kings), Buddhist guardian figures who are often found
at either side of a Buddhist temple gate, whose mouths can also be open or closed. 'A' is the sound of
the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet and is pronounced with the mouth open. 'Un' is the sound of the
last letter of the Sanskrit alphabet and is pronounced with the mouth closed. 'A' and 'un' represent the
beginning and the end of all things, or inhalation and exhalation, respectively.
For a similar pair of komainu held in the collection of Shirayama Jinja Ishikawa prefecture see: KAMKURA
The Renaissance of Japanese Sculpture 1185-1333, pl.34.