Japan, Nara Prefecture, Horyuji; Nara period (710-794), early 8th century
Clay with traces of slip and pigment
H. 9 in. (22.9 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection of Asian Art
This sculpture was part of a larger group of small clay figures in the five-story pagoda at the Horyuji, one of the earliest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan. The pagoda and several other buildings at this site are believed to have been constructed in the late 7th or early 8th century. Four tableaux of clay sculptures illustrating important events in Buddhism are placed in the first story of the pagoda.
It has been suggested that this kneeling woman represents either a mourner in the clay sculpture tableau that illustrates the death of Shakyamuni Buddha, which is in the north side of the pagoda, or a member of the audience witnessing a debate between a learned laymen, Vimalakirti and the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, Manjushri, which is a tableau from the pagoda's east side. The sculpture is made of sandy white clay that is supported by an interior wooden frame with wire wrappings. Traces of white slip remain on the woman's face and garments. This slip was likely once painted over with colors as there are remnants of black pigment in her hair.