Seated Female Deity

Organization control number
Era century
Heian period, 12th century
Item shape
Wood, pigments
Height of the statue: 40.7 cm; back screen; (H) 60
Kyushu National Museum
Before the transmission of Buddhism to Japan, Japanese people worshiped their indigenous deities, but did not create images of them. In the 8th century, however, they began to produce statues of Shintō deities under the influence of Buddhist statues. In the late 9th century, styles unique to Shintō statues developed. This female deity statue is a product of the 12th century, when the original style of Shintō statues was firmly established. This statue has her long hair parted in the center to cover both ears and her back. Part of the hair is bundled and placed atop her head. She is seated on a pedestal that is set in front of a back screen. Her hands are folded in front of her waist, but they are covered by the long sleeves. It seems that she initially held something with both hands. The most part of the head and body is carved from a high-quality single block of hinoki (Japanese cypress). The statue is solid without interior hollowing. It has typical characteristics of the wooden figures of deities created in the 12th century: long and lean body, thin legs, and few draperies on the costume. Moreover, like other statues of deities in this period, her hair is painted black and her skin and costume are painted in white clay. Her facial expression is particularly impressive. The long and full-cheeked face with long eyebrows, almond eyes, and sharply edged lips emanate her strong divine power. Unfortunately, this statue has unknown origins. However, there is a “seated male deity,” which has similar facial expression, composition, pigments, costume motifs, and carving patterns of the costume. This statue (Important Cultural Property, private collection, height of statue: 50.9 cm) is considered to pair with this female deity statue. The back screen behind the statue of female deity is made of a single block of Japanese cypress. White clay is applied on the screen. Plants and landscapes are then depicted in fine Indian ink lines and light colors with rhythmical touches. This is regarded as an important material for studies of landscapes in the late Heian period (794–1192).