Pair of Temple Figures – Nio

 

Nio-WEB

Pair of Temple Figures, Nio

Japan

Late Muromachi to early Edo Period (1467-1652)

wood

71 in. (180.3 cm) high each

Pair of Temple Figures, Nio

Japan

late Muromachi to early Edo Period (1467-1652)

wood

71 in. (180.3 cm) high each 

Provenance:

Private Collection, California
Heather James Fine Art

Exhibited:

San Antonio Museum of Art, Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism, May – September 2017
Ackland Art Museum, Religion and Ritual, January – May 2018

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The Japanese Nio, or “benevolent kings,” are figures that were placed outside Buddhist temples, on each side of the entrance, to ward off evil spirits, demons, and thieves from the late Muromachi to early Edo periods — or roughly 1467 to 1652.

The Nio are Indian in origin — manifestations of Vajrapani Bodhisattvas. By some accounts, they protected the Buddha when he traveled throughout India.

These figures are approximately 500 years old, according to carbon-14 dating conducted on the objects. They were once installed in a famous home that was photographed for the cover of a Frank Lloyd Wright book.

Video

View our video of the temple figures, Nio

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It is interesting to note that this pair — each figure standing 71 inches tall — is a close copy of the Nio guarding the south gate of the Todaiji in Japan. However, the Todaiji pair, completed in 1203, stands 26 feet tall.

History

The Japanese Nio, or “benevolent kings,” are figures that were placed outside Buddhist temples, on each side of the entrance, to ward off evil spirits, demons, and thieves from the late Muromachi to early Edo periods — or roughly 1467 to 1652. The Nio are Indian in origin — manifestations of Vajrapani Bodhisattvas. By some accounts, they protected the Buddha when he traveled throughout India.

Each figure is named after a cosmic sound. The closed-mouth figure is Ungyo, who utters “un” or “om,” meaning death. He is also called Nareen Kongo and is said to be a form of the Indian god Vishnu. With his tightly closed mouth and tensed both arms, he represents latent might. The open-mouthed partner is Misshaku Kongo (Agyo), who sounds “ah,” meaning birth. He is equated to the Indian deity Vajrapani, whose name means “thunderbolt holder.” He bares his teeth, raises his fist, and holds a Kongosho, which is a symbol of the power he represents.

More
  • 1072_nio_book_scan
    The Nio figures installed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lovness House (1955), Stillwater, Minnesota. Back cover photograph from the book “Frank Lloyd Wright – The Houses”, Rizzoli, 2005
  • Nio-install1
    Installation image: “Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism”, San Antonio Museum of Art, May – September 2017
  • Nio-install2
    Installation image: “Religion and Ritual”, Ackland Art Museum, January – May 2018
  • Nio-install3
    Installation image: “Masterpieces of Asian Art”, Heather James Fine Art, April 2015

Comparable Nio figures

"Guardian Figure", wood, Kei School, Kamakura Period, late 13th Century, 80 1/4 in. high
“Guardian Figure”, wood, Kei School, Kamakura Period, late 13th Century, 80 1/4 in. high
Left: "Ungyō", right: "Agyō", both c. 1203, Nandaimon (Great South Gate), Todaiji, Nara, Japan
Left: “Ungyō”, right: “Agyō”, both c. 1203, Nandaimon (Great South Gate), Todaiji, Nara, Japan
Nio figures at the South Gate of Sensō-ji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
Nio figures at the South Gate of Sensō-ji Temple, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Image Gallery

Additional Resources

Visit “Heaven & Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism” at San Antonio Museum of Art
Enjoy a video tour of the exhibition “Heaven And Hell” featuring the Nio figures
Visit “Religion and Ritual” at Ackland Art Museum

Authentication

The definitive authority on the authenticity of paintings by Van Gogh, the Van Gogh Museum inspected this painting in January 2020 and provided this letter of authenticity. During that inspection, X-ray revealed a second painting under the surface – a portrait of a man.

View full report

KM_C454e-20200128185738

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