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Paradise of Amida Buddha (Amitabha)

Kasuga Kaishi , (Japanese,
Heian period

Color and gold on silk
H: 202.7 W: 80.8 cm

Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1904.112

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Devotion to Amida Buddha within Japanese Buddhism reached a crescendo late in the Heian period (794–1185) and continued through the Kamakura period (1185–1333). Amida's Western Paradise was central to the iconography of Amidist cults, and most specifically to Pure Land Buddhism. Images of the Western Paradise were symmetrically-conceived views of paradisiacal court architecture and gardens populated by deities and souls recently arrived from the earth. Related images, called raigozu, show Amida Buddha, attendant bodhisattvas (enlightened beings) Seishi and Kannon, and sometimes additional retinue, descending to earth to greet a soon-to-expire believer.

This exceptionally rare painting—only one other like it is known—eschews the common symmetrical format and offers a diagonal composition. The narrative reads from the upper right corner to the center pavilion and then to the lower right and shows a repeated image of Amida and attendants first returning on a cloud with a recently deceased soul, then formally seated in the pavilion, and finally departing on another mission to earth to welcome another soul into paradise.

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