Byaku-e Kannon Triptych
Late 14th century
Ink on silk
This triptych depicts a Byaku-e or "White-Robed"
Kannon flanked by a plum and bamboo. This particular manifestation
of Kannon Bodhisattva represents one of the most enduring iconographic
traditions in the Zen painting tradition. The early prototypes
of Byaku-e Kannon imagery date to late eighth-century China.
By the time Zen Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the early
thirteenth century, Byaku-e Kannon representations had a substantial
legacy that attracted professional painters, who often executed
commissions for monasteries and their patrons, and amateur painter-monks,
who were equally fond of this theme. It is not possible to link
this work with certainty to one or the other tradition; it does,
however, lack the polished quality of professional works that
would have tended to highlight iconographic details.
Although meditation was part of many Esoteric
Buddhist rituals, it was not until Zen (the term means meditation)
was introduced to Japan that it became the specific practice
of an entire sect. White-Robed Kannon imagery was particularly
popular with Zen practitioners. The deity is usually depicted
on a rocky outcrop overlooking a waterfall. The Kannon's distinctly
contemplative attitude and the natural setting evoke important
sentiments often associated with Zen practice.
Most surviving Byaku-e Kannon images consist
of only a single hanging scroll. Complete triptychs, in which
the White-Robed Kannon are depicted with auspicious trees or
animals, are extremely rare; this may be the only surviving example
outside of Japan.
Ackland Art Museum, The University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackland Fund; 89.14.1,.2,.3