Important Art Object

Kasuga Deer Mandala



Period Kamakura period, 13th century
Materials and techniques Hanging scroll, colour on silk
Size 107.2×48.6


An important type of painting which became popular from the latter Heian period was suijakuga (painting based on the theory of Buddhist and Shinto unity) and numerous shaji mandalas (mandala of shrine and temple), usually depicting a shrine and Shinto gods with their Buddhist counterparts, were produced. This painting is one of the many types of Kasuga Mandala and depicts a deer according to the legend that a Shinto deity enshrined at Kasuga Shrine came from Kashima to Nara on the back of a deer.
The sacred deer carries on its back a sakaki tree (a sacred tree in Shintoism) holding a mirror, the object of worship, on which are the five Shinto deities of the five Kasuga Shrines in their Buddhist forms. The composition is a common one, but this mandala is unique in that it depicts Juichimen Kannon (Edadasamukha), the Kannon with eleven faces who is enshrined at the Fourth Shrine, in the center, larger than the other deities. The deer is rendered in a realistic and vivid manner from the left diagonal angle, giving it a three-dimensional quality. The same can be said for the deities on the mirror, drawn in free and easy lines. As in other shrine mandalas, the mirror is rendered brightly in gold, standing out clearly against the background done in a dark tone. From the deft execution and the unrestrained lines, it is evident that this work was done by an accomplished Buddhist painter.