Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva (Jizō Bosatsu)

 
Nationality
Japanese
Creation date
Period
Heian
Materials
wood and bronze
Dimensions
H: 49 in.
Credit line
Evans Woollen Jr. Memorial Fund
Accession number
59.29
Collection
Currently On View In
John T. and Norma A. Thompson Gallery - K303

地蔵菩薩立像

Jizō was especially popular as a rescuer of souls in hell; his powers of salvation derive from Ksitigarbha, the ancient Indian earth goddess. His face radiates tenderness and compassion, fitting to his role of relieving pain and suffering.

Jizō is also worshipped as a protector of children and travelers. Usually portrayed as a young monk, he carries the alarum staff to frighten insects away from his steps and the cintamani jewel to illuminate the darkness.

Purchased for the John Herron Art Institute, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in 1959.
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

In Buddhism, bodhisattvas are wise, perfected beings who work for the salvation of others. Known as Jizo bosatsu in Japan, this bodhisattva is usually portrayed as a young priest. Jizo holds in his right hand a pilgrim’s staff for warding off fierce beasts and poisonous snakes, and in his left a peach-shaped jewel that purifies corruption, expels evil, and grants wishes.

Meant to be viewed frontally, the figure projects a full chest and shoulders, yet it is surprisingly thin in profile. The harmonious combination of mass and volume with a sense of lightness and grace is typical of sculpture of the later 1100s in Japan. The downcast eyes and gentle facial expression radiate a sense of serenity and compassion, promising relief from danger and suffering. Jizo was especially popular as the rescuer of souls in Hell; his powers of salvation derive from Ksitigarbha, the ancient Indian earth goddess. With the country plagued by wars and natural disasters, Japanese faith in Jizo flourished during the period when this image was sculpted. Over time, Jizo’s role as savior and guardian made him the patron saint of travelers, little children, and others seeking relief from danger and suffering.

Be not afraid, little dear ones,
You were so little to come here,
All the long journey to Meido!
I will be Father and Mother,
To all the children in Meido!

—Folk song about Jizo and Meido, or the region of the dead