The Nara National Museum opened in 1895 as the second national museum in all of Japan. Since its conception, it has been dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of Buddhist works from temples and shrines located in the ancient capital of Nara. Renowned worldwide as a treasure house of Buddhist art, the Nara National Museum—known throughout Japan as “Narahaku”—has a diverse collection of over 2,000 artworks and objects spanning prehistory to the first part of the twentieth century. The collection is particularly rich in Buddhist statuary, Buddhist paintings, sutra manuscripts, and the decorative and ritual objects used to adorn Buddhist temples and ceremonies.
The special exhibition Buddhist Art Paradise: Jewels from the Nara National Museum Collection celebrates the museum’s long history and its radiant holdings with ten thematic sections. The first nine present a selection of masterworks tracing the 1,400 years of Buddhist art in Japan. These sections encompass treasures from ancient temples established at the dawn of Japanese Buddhism, Buddhist statues and paintings that emerged out of the religious contexts of esoteric Buddhism (mikkyō) and Pure Land Buddhism, and works representing a combinatory faith in Buddhist deities and kami, the localized gods and goddesses of what is known in modern times as the Shinto religion. The final section showcases hidden gems from the collection encompassing a wide range of periods and genres.
The title of this exhibition in Japanese is “Narahaku Zanmai.” “Zanmai” derives from the Sanskrit word “samādhi,” which refers to an advanced level of meditative contemplation involving the attainment of total concentration on the object of one’s focus. In the Buddhist practice of kanbutsu zanmai, practitioners aspire to this state of complete absorption in visualizing a Buddhist deity’s form, conjuring the Buddha through contemplation of his auspicious bodily marks. We hope that you achieve a state of immersion in the splendor of Buddhist art and in the forms of the Buddhist pantheon through the many masterworks of the Nara National Museum collection on display in the exhibition.
Closed: Every Monday (but open on August 9th)