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Mu’an Xingtao 木庵性滔


Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper
83 x 31 83.0 x 31.0 cm. (32 5/8 x 12 1/4 in.)

Inscription: “Mu’an.”

Artist’s seal: Mu’an

Published: Kaikodo Journal XXXI (Spring 2015), no. 47.

Colophon by Yuanxian:
“Leaning on the round window,
her thoughts can only be profound;
Showing compassion and mercy to all within the seas,
demonstrating this through actions without ceasing.
Meishan, called Jinlong, inscribed this painting.”
Seals: Seng Yuanxian (“The Monk Yuanxian”); Meishan



A figure with reserved, even poignant expression rests her arms against what appears to be the curving frame of a circular window or balustrade. Calligraphic lines define the robe and hood-like head covering, contrasting with the darker areas of hair and the border of her garment. The eyes are downcast and suggest inner meditation while the hint of red on her lips anchors her to the present world.

Guanyin was the most important and popular deity of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism; the name means “One who Hears the Sounds” of prayers offered by the faithful in times of need. Originally a male deity, Guanyin became thought of as female, the Goddess of Mercy and protectress of women and children.

Mu’an Xingtao (1611-1684) was a Buddhist monk who in 1654 followed his master, Yinyuan Lonqi, to Japan, where they founded the Obaku Zen school with headquarters at Manpuku-ji in Uji. Mu’an (J: Mokuan) succeeded his master as head of the temple and in 1671 established another temple, the Zuisho-ji, at Shirokane in Edo. Although known today primarily as a calligrapher, an art in which he was highly skilled, Mu’an was also a fine painter, with most extant examples still at Manpuku-ji. Yuanxian, the writer of the colophon, was also Chinese, born in Fujian province, and presumably came to Japan at the same time as Mu’an.


For a complete writeup with illustrated comparative material download the PDF.



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