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Portrait of Kōbō Daishi

Despite its damaged condition, this portrait of the Buddhist monk Kōbō Daishi (also known as Kūkai) has great importance. It not only depicts one of Japan’s most charismatic and influential Buddhist monks but also is one of the few Zentsūji portraits (a particular iconographical type) in a Western collection. For Kūkai’s followers, this portrait is more than an idealized likeness of the master. It is his embodiment, not only as a man and revered teacher but also as the tangible symbol of the transmission of Dharma—the teachings of Buddha—from mind to mind, stretching in an unbroken line back to the historical Buddha.

Japanese
Portrait of Kōbō Daishi
14th century
Ink and color on silk
47 3/4 x 29 7/8 in. (121.2 x 75.8 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 66.13