Portrait of Kobo Daishi

  • Muromachi period
  • 14-15c
  • Hanging scroll, color on silk
  • H-74.2 W-42
    Formerly in the collection of Dan Takuma
Catalogue Entry

Muromachi period, 14th to 15th centuries
Hanging scroll, color on silk
Height, 74.2cm; width, 42.0cm

Portraits of Kobo Daishi (Kukai 774-835) as a child show a 2-or-3-year-old child seated in meditation. The Goyuigo, traditionally ascribed to Kukai, notes the following: "I was born and lived in the home of my mother and father. When I was about 5-or-6-years old, I would normally see myself in my dreams seated in an eight-petal lotus blossom, conversing with the various Buddhas." While this pictorial iconography originally derived from this statement, we can also see how these images were further enhanced and made into a set pictorial iconography after this statement was included in the Retired Emperor Go-uda's Kobo Daishiden biography compiled in 1315 (Showa 4).

The simple composition of this iconography shows Kukai as a child seated in the middle of a lotus pedestal, placed within a round sphere floating against a blank background. With whitish-yellow flesh and black ink lines picking out the details of his features, the child's lips are painted with cinnabar red. The kosode kimono has a peach-colored ground and is decorated with white peonies and cloud patterns in gold paint. The lotus pedestal is malachite green with the petal veins picked out in cut gold leaf. Later brushwork can be seen on the body of the figure, but overall the integrity of the original image has been maintained. There is a somewhat hard sensibility in the depiction of the eyes and eyebrows, and this would indicate that the work was created in the first half of the Muromachi period. This subject matter was not taken up in older schools of Buddhist painting, and thus this work ranks among the early examples of this iconography.
One of the documents accompanying the painting reads "Kobo Daishi as a child, exhibited by Baron Dan Takuma" and thus clarifies that the work was transmitted through the Dan family. TI