The Life of the Priest Kobo (Kobo Daishi Zaito)

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Historical period(s)
Kamakura period, late 13th century
Ink, color, gold, and silver on paper
H x W x D: 32.5 x 665 x 728 cm (12 13/16 x 261 13/16 x 286 5/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


Buddhism, eating, Japan, Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), priest, work
Provenance research underway.

Kobo Daishi is the posthumous name given to the monk Kukai (774–835), a revered poet and calligrapher who, as founder of the Shingon school, continues to be revered as a major force in the development of Japanese Buddhism. From 804 to 806, Kukai studied in China under the tutelage of Huiguo (746–805), the patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism. Kukai was Huiguo’s last and most accomplished disciple and became his teacher’s successor as the eighth patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism.

This scroll is one of a pair that offers an imagined glimpse into Kukai’s stay in China. Huiguo’s understanding of Buddhism was more in keeping with its original transmission from its native India, and it thus contained significant elements of yogic practice as well as rich and complex imagery with Indian characteristics. By stressing the potential for spiritual growth through the effective use of iconography, Kukai raised works of religious art to heightened prominence. His influence on aesthetics during the Heian period (794–1185) was considerable.

Published References
  • Zaigai hiho [(Japanese Paintings in Western Collections]. 3 vols., Tokyo. vol. 2., pt. I & II, pp. 86-87, pl. 62.
  • Nihon emakimono zenshu, shinshu [Japanese Scroll Painting]. 32 vols., Tokyo, 1975-1981. pls. 5, 6, 24-31.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 12, vol. 2: p. 155.
  • Miya Tsugio. Remaining scrolls from the scroll painting of the life of Priest Kobo formerly owned by the Inoue family. no. 232 Tokyo, October 1964. pp. 1-26, pl. 1-5.
  • James L. Huffman. Modern Japan: A History in Documents. Pages from History New York. p. 30.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 101.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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