Aizen myôô, the Wisdom King of Passion (Joined Wood Construction)


Transforming physical lust into spiritual awakening, Aizen myôô, the Wisdom King of Passion is coarse and fearsome. The trick would be to identify that precise moment in time when the one is turned into the other. According to his Wikipedia site, his Sanskrit name was translated into Chinese as Àirǎn Míngwáng “Lustful-Tinted Wisdom King.” This one here is from Japan.

With a lion’s head on top of his head, he carries a bell, bow, and thunderbolt. An unidentified object is held in one of his hands. I read online that one must supposedly be advanced in esoteric practice to know what it is; but given his characteristic and function one might just as easily suppose that the identity of this object might be more easy to guess than not.

My attention was immediately drawn to him by the red skin and unopened lotus flower. From the 14th century, here he is today behind glass at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which does interesting things with his reflection. Especially gorgeous, this one is cypress with polychrome, gold, and inlaid crystal. The sculptural technique is joined woodblock construction. Apparently joined woodblock construction is a big deal in medieval Japanese sculpture. A quick Google search, which you can read here, found this little bit of information:

“Yosegi is a sculpture technique, in which individually carved blocks of wood are joined together. The carving is then completed and the assembled sculpture is finished with lacquer and gold leaf or paint. This is the technique that Genkei used when creating all five hundred rakans at Gohyaku Rakanji (Temple of the Five Hundred Arharts). During the later portion of the Heian period (794-1185), the “single-woodblock construction” (ichiboku-zukuri) was replaced by “joined/multiple woodblock construction” (yosegi-zukuri). This came about do the spread of the Amida faith among the aristocracy, and growing demand for new temples and Buddhist images. The one who revolutionized this new technique of yosegi-zukuri was the sculpture Jocho. Yosegi-zukuri made it possible for sculptures to be made from several pieces that appear to be unable to interlock. This style was not only just a technical innovation but also aided, in the treatment of the Buddhist images’ faces and bodies, the trends and tastes of the times. Sadly, Jocho has only one surviving work, which is an image of Amida Nyorai in the Phoenix Hall of Byodoin near Kyoto.”

The point that I’m finding most interesting here is the technique and idea of a composition composed of joined and interlocking parts, and also the wood material. It seems particularly apt in relation to Aizen myôô, the Wisdom King of Passion. This too seems pertinent to our subjects, religion sex, and sculptural technique, here in imperfect English from the Wiki site for Japanese sculpture: “They succeeded the technique ‘yosegi-zukuri’ (Woodblock construction) and represented new sculpture style: Realism, Representation of sentiment, Solidity, and Movement, for which they studied early Nara period masterpieces and Chinese Song dynasty sculptures and paintings.”



About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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