The Cleveland Museum of Art’s recent acquisitions include a 14th-century Japanese hanging scroll featuring the Buddhist deity Aizen Myōō, Wisdom King of Passion.
The icon exhibits the spectacular goldwork and vibrant color of Japan’s medieval painting.
Aizen Myōō is the Wisdom King of Passion, one of the Five Great Wisdom Kings who protect the Five Wisdom Buddhas. Aizen Myōō converts carnal desire into a lust for enlightenment. Icons of Aizen were especially prevalent in the 13th and 14th centuries in Japan due to the deity’s association with repulsing attempted invasions by Kublai Khan’s forces in the late 13th century.
Aizen Myōō is depicted with a red body and six arms. He has a flaming mandorla, or body halo, and sits on a lotus supported by a vase from which flaming, wish-fulfilling jewels flow. This medieval Japanese representation of Aizen conveys the color palette, complexity of design, fine line work, and use of cut gold characteristic of the best 14th-century Japanese Buddhist paintings.
This painting complements a 13th-century sculpture of Aizen Myōō in the museum’s collection, as the painting depicts implements now missing from the sculpture’s hands, as well as the type of dais on which the wooden sculpture would have once been placed.