In the Shadow of an Apocalypse: Buddhist Art in Japan

October 14, 2017 – Indefinitely

Taizokai Mandala, Japan, F1998.1

Freer Gallery of Art
Jefferson Drive and 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC

Gallery 8 Floor Plan

Japan was a nation under siege in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, living out an apocalypse foretold in Buddhist teachings. The Mongols swept across Asia and, by the late 1200s, attempted to invade Japan. Natural calamities and plagues underscored the sense of end times.

In this tumultuous period, Japanese Buddhists turned to their faith for protection, compassion, and order. An explosion of iconography responded to those needs. Whether painted or sculpted, Buddhist works reassured believers with visions of compassionate protectors and fierce guardians. New production techniques offered such images an intensely heightened realism.

Mandalas, diagrams that depict an invisible yet foundational spiritual order, offered a sense of structure amid chaos. The most familiar examples are two-dimensional compositions of concentric squares, circles, or other patterns. Sculptures were arranged in similar patterns to create three-dimensional mandalas of almost theme park-like proportions. Several works in this exhibition were once part of such ensembles.