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92 Items in this Learning Collection

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Celestial Musician (Japanese, Hiten; Sanskrit, Apsara)

Accession Number

Celestial Musician (Japanese, Hiten; Sanskrit, Apsara)


Artist Nationality
Japanese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 670-700

Medium & Support
polychromed camphor wood on lacquered wood base

14 15/16 in. x 7 1/16 in. x 5 11/16 in. ( 38 cm x 18 cm x 14.5 cm )

Credit Line
Gift of John J. Schloss

Label copy

Celestial Musician
Asuka period (538–710)

ca. 670–700
Polychromed camphor wood on lacquered wood base
Gift of John J. Schloss, 1999/2.14

This kneeling musician was part of a set of forty- eight figures installed in the Golden Hall at Horyu-ji, one of the most prominent Buddhist temples in the Asuka (538–710) and Nara (710–794) periods. These musicians are hiten, low-ranking divine figures who were attendants to the Buddhas. The sculptures were installed on the canopies that hung over the primary Buddhist icons enshrined in the hall. This figure holds a pair of cymbal-like instruments, while others in the set held flutes or stringed instruments.

Based on other surviving celestial musician sculptures from Horyu-ji, we assume it would have had a delicately carved wooden body halo with a lattice-like pattern representing lotus stalks and blossoms. Its fragile lotus pedestal is comprised of individually carved petals. The lacquered double lotus base was added much later, after the figure was removed from its original location.

Subject matter
This musician statue was once part of a set that adorned the interior of the Golden Hall (Kondô) of Hôryûji Temple. It holds a cymbal-like instrument. The lotus flowers indicate that the figure is a Buddhist diety.

Physical Description
The figure is kneeling musician on lotus seat, made of separately carved petals. Below the seat, there is a base, which consists of two lotus-shaped half-sphere, connected up-side-down. The head has two buns, elongated ears, simplified facial parts; the figure wears a pink robe with wide sleeves, holding a sort of instrument with hands.

Primary Object Classification
Wood and Woodcarving

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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lotus (motif)
music (performing arts)

& Author Notes

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On display