Carrying the Sun

By Lucca Bey

Last week, we ended up visiting the Freer|Sackler museum to expand and apply the Japanese history we’ve been studying in class about the happenings of different historical periods. Seeing how the different events affected the style and content of art during that period is way more interesting than it sounds on paper. For example, most of the artwork in the Japan exhibit was from the Kamakura period, which depicted a lot of religious symbolism as well as primarily paintings, which matches up to the events during that period. I won’t go too much into that though, I plan to talk about an art piece that in particular, caught my eye:

[Pictured: Carrying the Sun by Kasuga Mandala, courtesy National Museum of Asian Art]

For context, deer are considered messengers of the divine in the Shinto religion, and the sun above the deer is meant to symbolize the kami Amaterasu as well as the Buddha Mahavairocana. I found this piece particularly eye catching due to the symbolism of two distinct religions depicted here, and what’s more, the museum’s explanation for this was the fact that during the Nanbokucho period, both the Kasuga Grand Shrine and the Kofukuji, a Buddhist monastery, maintained close ties to each other and were sponsored by the same clan. I’d personally like to imagine the piece as a symbol of solidarity between both groups, and the gold painted onto the sun as well as the border of the scroll makes this art even more beautiful.

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