A treasury of beauty: 65th Shoso-in exhibition shows creativity of craftspeople of past

“Urushi Kinpaku E no Ban” (56 centimeters in diameter, 17 centimeters high)

“Urushi Kinpaku E no Ban” (56 centimeters in diameter, 17 centimeters high)

Yomiuri Shimbun Oct 8, 2013

NARA—Beautiful craftwork pieces symbolizing the splendor of the Tempyo period in the eighth century, along with gorgeous items that added to the life of the nobility, are among the 66 items displayed at the 65th Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures, which will run from Oct. 26 to Nov. 11 at the Nara National Museum.

Items on display at the annual exhibition come from the collection of the Shoso-in repository near the Great Buddha Hall at Todaiji temple in Nara. Many of these pieces are associated with Emperor Shomu (701-756), which were dedicated to the Buddha statue of the temple by his wife, Empress Komyo (701-760), after his death.

A careful examination of the breathtakingly elaborate details of the displayed items will give visitors a rich impression of the creativity and skill that craftspeople of the past possessed.

Among this year’s displays, “Urushi Kinpaku E no Ban” (lacquered incense burner tray with painting on gold leaf) is probably one of the most extraordinary pieces among the collection due to its beautiful shape and dazzling vivid colors.

The piece is said to be modeled on a lotus flower and is believed to have been used when incense was burned for the Buddha. Paintings on a gold-plated base adorn its wooden petals. The paintings drawn with delicate touches include those of such imaginary animals as karyobinga, a bird that has a human head and is believed to live in heaven, and hanakuidori, a bird holding a flower in its beak. People in the Tempyo period likely tried to become closer to the Buddha’s world through these paintings, along with fragrances rising from the tray.

Some other exhibits this year also feature elaborate animal paintings.

“Hinoki no Wagon,” a six-stringed cypress Japanese zither, will be displayed with a set of “Taimai-e,” or semitransparent plates that are believed to have been attached to the long sides of the instrument. These plates are decorated with paintings of a parrot in flight, a rabbit running in the field and a howling tiger.

 “Hinoki no Wagon” (156 centimeters long, 17 centimeters wide, 4 centimeters thick)


“Hinoki no Wagon” (156 centimeters long, 17 centimeters wide, 4 centimeters thick)

“Shika Kusaki Kyokechi no Byobu” (screen with clamp-resistant design of deer and grasses under a tree) is a dyed work of art, bearing the image of a pair of deer facing each other under a tree. The image is made with the kyokechi dyeing technique of using wooden boards to clamp fabrics.

“Shika Kusaki Kyokechi no Byobu” (149.5 centimeters long, 56.5 centimeters wide)

“Shika Kusaki Kyokechi no Byobu” (149.5 centimeters long, 56.5 centimeters wide)

“Heiradenhai no Enkyo” is a round bronze mirror with floral and bird designs in mother-of-pearl and amber. The item features the image of 16 pretty birds around flowers. These birds are elaborately depicted with mother-of-pearl inlay work using seashells.

Heirandenhai no enki

“Heirandenhai no Enkyo” (27.2 cm in diameter)

Meanwhile, “Toko” describes an aspect of the nobility’s lives. It is a gilt bronze jar used for an arrow-throwing game. People tried to throw the arrows into the jar’s neck, which is adorned with the image of mountain hermits having a good time in the fields.

Toko” (31 centimeters high, 21.7 centimeters in diameter at its widest point)

Toko” (31 centimeters high, 21.7 centimeters in diameter at its widest point)

Three masks for gigaku stage performances will also be on display. Gigaku is a play that was brought to Japan from China and often performed at temples. One of the masks, named “Taikofu,” appears to depict an old man and will be on display for the first time. Another mask, “Suikoju,” is the likeness of a Persian drunkard, indicating international links in the Tempyo period.

65th Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures

will run from Oct. 26 to Nov. 11 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (7 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Nov. 4). Open daily.

Nara National Museum in Nara

http://www.narahaku.go.jp/english/index_e.html

The Yomiuri Shimbun has provided special support for the exhibition.

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