Portraits of Chōgen

The Transformation of Buddhist Art in Early Medieval Japan


This volume, the first in Brill’s Japanese Visual Culture series, vividly describes the efforts of the Japanese monk Shunjōbō Chōgen (1121–1206) to restore major buildings and works of art lost in a brutal civil conflict in 1180. Chōgen is best known for his role in the recasting of the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) and the reconstructing of the South Great Gate (Nandaimon) of Tōdaiji in Nara and its huge, dramatic wooden guardian figures. This study concentrates on these and other replacement statues and buildings associated with Chōgen and situates the visual arts of Japan into the spiritual and socio-political context of their times. Through meticulous study of dedicatory material, Rosenfield is able to place the splendid Buddhist statues made for Chōgen in vivid new light. The volume also explores how Japan’s rulers employed the visual arts as instruments of government policy – a tactic that recurs throughout the nation’s history. This publication includes an annotated translation of Chōgen’s memoir, completed near the end of his life, in which he recounts his many achievements. In chapters on East Asian portraiture, Rosenfield claims that surviving statues of Chōgen, carved with mordant realism, rank among the world’s most eloquent portraits, and herald the great changes that were to permeate Japanese religious and secular arts in the centuries to come. While Chōgen has been the subject of major art exhibitions and extensive research in Japan; this is the first book-length study to appear in the West.

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John M. Rosenfield is Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of East Asian Art, Emeritus, and Curator of Asian Art in the Harvard University Art Museums, Emeritus.
"... This excellent book is a rarity in that Rosenfield's clear writing and careful explanations make this complex topic accessible to nonspecialists while concurrently, his use of diverse primary sources, including Chōgen's own memoir (translated in an appendix), distinguishes it as an invaluable resource for specialists as well."
Patricia J Graham, University of Kansas, Religious Studies Review, Vol 37 No 3 (September 2011)

"The title of this book gives only a hint of the scope of this masterly study."
Sir Hugh Cortazzi, The Japan Society Review, Issue 33 Volume 6 Number 3 (June 2011)

"Written in a clear, accessible, and engaging style, Rosenfield's study is a fascinating read both for non-specialists and for scholars of the art and religion of Japan."
Ive E. Covaci, Fairfield University, CAAreviews.org, College Art Association, October 24, 2012
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