Tamon-ten, Guardian of the North, one of a set of four Shitenno (Guardian Figures)


Historical period(s)
Kamakura period, 1185-1333
Sculpture; wood and polychrome with gilt, crystal-inlaid eyes
H x W x D: 76 × 33 × 20.5 cm (29 15/16 × 13 × 8 1/16 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Accession Number
On View Location
Freer Gallery 08: The Historical Buddha and Friends

Buddhist sculpture

Buddhism, Japan, Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), stupa, WWII-era provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable
Previous Owner(s)

Kaneda Kaichiro
Yasuda Zenjiro


Tamon-ten (Vaisravana), Guardian of the North, is one of a set of four Shitenno (guardian figures). (See also F1974.20. F1976.12, and F1977.19) These images are the guardians of the four directions, and would have been placed within a temple sanctuary protecting one or more centralized Buddhist images. They were created and positioned to be viewed frontally as a logical and dynamic composition. Tamon-ten (north) holds a miniature stupa in one hand and a spear in the other. Each figure stands on a writhing demon, symbolizing dominance over any enemies of Buddhism.

Based on varied devotional settings, the four guardian figures hav been produced in many sizes, from more than double the size of a human, to the diminutive forms seen here, to even smaller. These lithe, animated figures are excellent examples of a hyperrealistic style that came to prominence in Japanese Buddhist sculpture in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Published References
  • Julia Murray. A Decade of Discovery: Selected Acquisitions 1970-1980. Exh. cat. Washington, 1979. cat. 39d, p. 52.
  • Zaigai Nihon no Shiho (Japanese Art : Selections from Western Collections). 10 vols., Tokyo, 1979 - 1980. pl. 66.
  • pp. 196-197, 210-211.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum

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