Portrait of Muso Kokushi (1275-1351)

Historical period(s)
Muromachi period, 16th century
Ink, color and gold on paper
H x W: 107.8 x 50.8 cm (42 7/16 x 20 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)

Buddhism, Japan, kakemono, Muromachi period (1333 - 1573), portrait

Hoki-in Temple [1]

To 1904
Yamanaka & Company, to 1904 [2]

From 1904 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Yamanaka & Company in 1904 [3]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [4]


[1] According to Curatorial Remark 3, E.F.F., 1904, in the object record, this object had "recently come from Hokiin of Koyasan."

[2] Original folder sheet note. Also see Original Panel List, pg. 15, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. The majority of Charles Lang Freer’s purchases from Yamanaka & Company were made at its New York branch. Yamanaka & Company maintained branch offices, at various times, in Boston, Chicago, London, Peking, Shanghai, Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto. During the summer, the company also maintained seasonal locations in Newport, Bar Harbor, and Atlantic City.

[3] See note 2.

[4] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Hoki-in Temple
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Yamanaka and Co. (C.L. Freer source) 1917-1965


Muso Soseki (1275-1351), a Japanese Zen priest who was instrumental in the formation of the Japanese Zen monastic tradition during the first half of the 14th century, was the founding partriarch of the Zen school known as Muso-ha. Many important Zen monks of the Muromachi period (1394-1573) were descended from that school. Muso also played a major role in enabling various Zen monastic centers to receive direct imperial patronage and thus acquire a signficant degree of legitimacy and respectability within Japanese Buddhism.

Born into a prominent family, Muso's Buddhist training began when he was three years old. As a child he could recite the long canonical Lotus Sutra, and at the age of eight he was studying Chinese classics, both Confucian and Taoist. Before he was eighteen he had a dream in which he was led to a mountain temple where an old monk gave him a half-bust portrait of Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of the Zen school. From that time on Muso sought out various Zen masters for his training, some of whom were Chinese emigres at notable Zen temples such Kencho-ji and Engaku-ji in Kamakura. Muso became a fully ordained Zen priest in 1307, receiving the "robe", the symbol of transmission of teaching, from his master Koho Kennichi (1241-1316).

Muso was an extraordinarily sensitive chanter of Buddhist texts. He was a painter, excellent calligrapher, poet and a garden designer as well. But as a Zen monk Muso followed a peripatetic life, always seeking places for quiet meditation and contemplation.

Muso's reputation as a learned and talented monk spread througout the country. After years of avoiding official appointments he was appointed abbot at Nanzen-ji in Kyoto in 1325. From that year until his death in 1351 Muso continuously served as the head of various monasteries. Finally, in 1339, he became the founding abbot of the Tenryu-ji monastery, which ws established in memory of Emperor Godaigo. He was reappointed for the second time in 1351, just before his death.

About a dozen portraits of Muso are known today, including one famous wooden sculpture. Among them, all in Japan, eight are executed in color on silk, and are all designated as Important Cultural Properties. The Freer version is close to a half-bust portrait, inscribed by Muso, now in the collection of Obai-in, a subtemple of the Engaku-ji monastery in Kamakura. Stylistically it is datable to the early 16th century.

Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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