This morning I was excited reading a newspaper reporting that a Dainichi Nyorai (= Maha Vairocana) sculpture attributed to Unkei (1151 – 1223) was being sold at an auction in New York. What excited me in the report was the description that the Dainichi Nyorai sculpture was formerly in a temple in Ashikaga city. The reason it excited me is that an old document concerning the origin of a shinto shrine, Kabasaki Hachimangu Shrine, in Ashikaga city describes that in the beginning of the Kamakura period (1185-1333) Ashikaga Takauji's ancestor, Ashikaga Yoshikane (1154?-1199), brought an sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai to Ashikaga. I thought it was possible that the sculpture being sold at the auction could be the one that Ashikaga Yoshikane commissioned, although it was not sure at the moment since the newspaper did not describe where in the Ashikaga city the sculpture had originally been rested.
It seems a Japanese was able to buy the sculpture. The following is from Reuters.
Wooden Buddha sculpture sold for $14.3 millionNHK's night news reported the sculpture was originally in a Buddhist temple housed by Kabasaki Hachiman Shrine, as I thought. It is most likely that the sculpture was the one that Ashikaga Yoshikane brought there from Kamakura.
Tue Mar 18, 2008 6:02pm EDT
NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A wooden Buddha sculpture set a new world auction record for Japanese art when it was sold for $14,377,000 at Christie's on Tuesday to Mitsukoshi Co. Ltd.
The newly discovered 26-inch (660 millimeter) sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai, the supreme Buddha, attributed to the sculptor Unkei, soared to nearly 10 times its low pre-sale estimate of $1.5 million at Christie's sale of Japanese and Korean art.
"History was made today," said Katsura Yamaguchi, Christie's International Director of Japanese and Korean Art.
"We witnessed enormous interest from clients worldwide who traveled from near and far to ... participate in this landmark sale," he added.
The previous record for Asian art at auction was $12.6 million. Tuesday's price, which included Christie's commission, also established a new record for Asian art sold at auction in New York.
The seated, Cyprus wood Buddha is believed to be the work of Unkei, considered one of the great carvers of the early Kamakura period of the 1190s, Christie's said. Part of a family collection in the northern Kanto region, before which it was kept in a temple in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, its existence was unknown until it was sold to a Buddhist dealer and then bought by the consignor.
This page describes the details of the statue.
The statue is believed to have come from a temple during the Meiji period (1868-1911) when the government officially adopted Shinto as the state religion. Upon leaving the temple, it was a part of a prominent family collection in the northern part of the Kanto region. The statue’s existence was unknown until it was later sold to a Buddhist dealer and bought by the current owner. Suspecting the figure was hollow inside, the owner approached the curator at the Tokyo National Museum and it was discovered by X-rays that the figure contains three dedicatory objects, sealed inside the torso for over 800 years.
The three objects, a wood five–stage pagoda, crystal ball supported by a bronze stand, and a crystal five-stage pagoda, represent Buddhist symbols and are tied together with bronze wire. The wooden plague is likely to be inscribed with the date of the dedication and the name of the temple or donor, as well as the sculptor’s identity.
Ashikaga Yoshikane's name or his Buddhist name, Banna, might be written on the wooden plaque.