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Statues by Unkei
Something Like Humanity
Date:24, Feb, 2021
Investigated and Written by Misaka Youhei
About our introductory articles


When you desire to learn something about Japanese statuary somehow, it is supposed you are hard to ignore Unkei. What is Unkei? He was the Japanese popular statuary builder who went from the 12th century to the 13th. Naturally, I have never met him. We don’t know when he was born, but know he passed away in 1223. It is said he was born as a child of the popular statuary builder Kokei who mainly worked in Nara.

You can see the oldest work of Unkei if you visit the Enjo-ji, Nara. The old statue is officially called Dai-nichi Nyorai-zazo (the Sitting Dainichi Nyorai), designated as a national treasure. I heard he began to create it in 1175 and completed next year.



Dai-nichi Nyorai-zazo
(National Treasure)
File: Seated Dainichi Nyorai.jpg
from the Japanese Wikipedia
(Sep. 22, 2017)

And more, you can see the two popular statues created by Unkei in Kofuku-ji, Nara, when the temple limitedly opens them to the public. The two are called Muchaku and Seshin. Both are said to have been modeled after the monk brothers who had actually lived in north India, the 5th century. Were they American popular jazz pianists? No, they were not related to Thelonious Monk. Ah, anyway, it is said Unkei directed the creation of both, completed in 1212. Let me skip talking about details of the two monks here, or we will take it too long.



The Muchaku Statue
(National Treasure)
File: Kofukuji Hokuendo Muchaku Unkei.jpg
from the Japanese Wikipedia
(Mar. 30, 2012)

As mentioned above, it is clear he was alive until 1223. What does it mean? According to the record, he had been active as a statuary builder for about 50 years. And naturally, it is supposed he steadily aged. When he started to build the oldest work in 1175, how old was he? We have no idea about his birth year, pretty hard is finding the correct answer. Assuming that he was 20 years old in 1175, he passed away at age 68 in 1223. I suppose it is close.

Gazing at his works, I cannot help feeling humanity there. I suppose some may shed tears somehow. How do you feel? About one thousand years ago, he built some great statues that let us feel humanity.



The Seshin Statue
(National Treasure)
File: Seshin (detail, 2).jpg
from the Japanese Wikipedia
(Sep. 23, 2017)







 

The Jocho-style Buddha Statuary
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