Artibus et Historiae no. 33 (XVII)

1996, ISSN 0391-9064

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HIDEMICHI TANAKA - The Discovery of a Great Sculptor: Kimimaro of the Nara Period (710-793)

The Nara era (710-794) with its sculptures may be considered as one of the best flourishing period, not only in Japanese art history, but also that of the world art. Among these art works we can single out for example the statue of Fuku-Kenjaku Kannon [Fig. 1] and those of the Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu [Figs. 2, 30] in Sangatu-do in Todai-ji temple, executed in dry lacquer or in day, which combine sublimity and the human aspects in one art work. Shitsukongo-shin [Fig. 18], which is stylistically close to the four statues of the warrior, Shitenno [Fig. 16], in Kaidan-in at the same temple, expresses a profound feeling of anger. Also in Shin-Yakusi-ji there are twelve statues of 12 Shinsb and their attitudes are uniquely expressive. Similarly Ganjin, the famous portrait of a blind bonze [Fig. 35] in meditation at Toshodai-ji temple, seems to us to be touched with the deepest humanity, while Gyosin-sozu, portrait of a bonze, at Horyu-ji tempie [Fig. 36] gives us an impression of firm will in a realistic figure. Each statue is considered a masterpiece for its universal artistic, not simply its religious, value, and we can compare this with sculptors from classical Greece or the Italian Renaissance period.

Despite such artistic values, the historians of Japanese art have not paid much attention to the particular artists, because, according to them, we don't have primary sources, which would identify the sculptors. However, we already know from many other documents, which mention the names of sculptors who worked for the large temples. For Todai-ji temple, Kuninaka-nomuraji Kimimaro is well known as the head of the studio (Zo Todai-ji-shi). We must try to attribute the artists' names to the concrete works. However historians do not offer satisfactory analyses of the styles of each artist, but they insist on co-production in the studio under one's direction. They do not consider that the sculptures were as personally executed in that period. From their point of view we can not appreciate a personal style in any single piece. Naturally we accept the collaboration of the studio, but in the case of the creation of the main work, it is extremely likely that somebody personally created a figure in a particular and very personal style.

In this article we try to propose attributions to Kimimaro, based on studies of style of the various sculptures considered here.

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