A solitary figure with the robe and shaven head of a monk walks above the clouds, his divine status indicated by the encompassing halo. Both hands are concealed, so any characterizing implements are hidden, but the staff topped by six rings is sufficient to identify the figure as Jizo.
Along with Kannon, the Bodhisattva or Bosatsu of Mercy, Jizo is one of the most popular deities today in China and, especially, Japan. Originating in the Indian Kitigarbha “Earth Womb,” the god had traveled to China by the 7th century or so, transforming into a male along the way, and was called Dicang, “Earth Treasury.” During the 8th century Dicang was introduced into Japan and from the 9th century onward worship spread throughout the country in association with the Tendai and Shingon sects. Jizo’s original charge as King of the Underworld was to ease suffering and to shorten the sentence of those in hell. This was later expanded to being Master of the Six States of Reincarnation, and later yet into a special relationship with children, charged with the protection of children, expectant mothers, of children in limbo, and of aborted or miscarried babies, hence the numerous images of Jizo in cemeteries in modern Japan.
In images such as the present, one foot of the deity is usually put forward to indicate that Jizo moves throughout our world. His calm demeanor and monk-like dress characterize Jizo as being very approachable despite his separation from the sentient world by the otherworldly clouds.
Kano Morinobu (1602-74), called Tan’yu, was the eldest son of Kano Takanobu (1571-1618) and grandson of Kano Eitoku (1543-90), fifth-generation head of the main Kano line in Kyoto. Working for the shogun in Edo along with his brothers Yasunobu (1613-85) and Naonobu (1607-50), Tan’yu and his family came to constitute the heart of official painting circles; the three brothers were all oku-eshi, “painters of the inner court,” which meant they worked only for aristocratic patrons and were given very generous annual stipends. The artist’s seal here gives the court rank that he received in 1665, so the work was painted during his mature period as an artist, at the height of his creative powers.
Tan’yu’s “Bosatsu Jizo” was in the collection of a later aristocrat, the Baron Kawasaki Shozo (1837-1912), founder of Kawasaki Heavy Industries and the Kawasaki Tsukiji Shipyard, and recorded in the catalogue of his collection in 1936. It is noteworthy that the first president of Kawasaki Dockyard was Kojiro Matsukata (b.1865), whose collection formed the basis for the National Museum of Western Art.
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