Japanese, Heian period
Head of a Guardian, second half of 11th century
Assembled woodblock construction with traces of polychrome and gilding
The equipoise of this head derives from the works of the great sculptor Jocho, whose style dominated Japanese sculpture in the eleventh century. Reflecting the aristocratic taste of the Heian capital (modern Kyoto) during the Fujiwara regency and the flowering of a Japanese cultural and artistic expression, this elegant piece contrasts with the more emphatically Chinese character of ninth-century Heian sculpture.
Because it is a fragment and no specific attribute is present, the exact identity of the head remains unknown. It may have been from a set of Buddhist guardians of the four cardinal directions (Shitenno) or one of the twelve heavenly generals (Juni shinsho). The head was once painted and gilded, heightening the wrathful expression of this protector of the faith. Its assembled woodblock construction was developed to meet the demand for images created by the increased patronage of the Fujiwara period. Using this method, artistic workshops could produce large quantities of lightweight images with speed, pegging and gluing together relatively shallowly carved pieces of wood.