Bodhisattva Mañjusri (J. Monju Bosatsu), seated on a lion: architectural fragment

Accession Number

Bodhisattva Mañjusri (J. Monju Bosatsu), seated on a lion: architectural fragment


Artist Nationality
Japanese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1605

Medium & Support
wall painting fragment,ink and color on wood panel

5 3/8 in. x 21 in. ( 13.65 cm x 53.34 cm )

Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Caroline I. Plumer for the James Marshall Plumer Collection

Label copy
An ema is a votive painting given as an offering to a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine by those seeking religious merit or good fortune. It is usually executed in ink and color on a wooden plaque. Because such paintings were at first representations of the sacred horses dedicated to Shinto shrines, ema literally means "horse painting."
The painted wood plaque is the middle section of a damaged ema. It depicts the Buddhist deity Mañjusri (J. Monju), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. His customary attributes are a sword and a book. The sword symbolizes the power and protection of the faith while the book, of which only the lower section can be detected, is a sutra, the sacred Buddhist scripture. Resting on a cloud that emerges from his left hand, the book represents the widsom embodied in the deity. The golden-bodied Monju is seated cross-legged in a yogic position on a lotus throne serving as a saddle for his lion mount. The large red peony to the right stands for prosperity. It is balanced on the left by a groom who usually holds the reins of the lion-vehicle. The groom's animated face is in marked contrast with that of his impassive master. The background of this ema is decorated with applied patches of now tarnished silver leaf, while smaller gold squares embellish the robes of the groom. The rendering of the figures, the bright color scheme, and the fluidity of the lines function together to create an opulent religious offering.

Subject matter
This fragmentary painting shows Monju (Sanskrit: Mañjuśrī), the bodhisattva of wisdom, riding his typical lion mount with an attendant. Monju is rarely depicted with a single attendant, and it is likely that the original painting included other companion figures, most likely forming the Monju Goson (or Monju Quintet) comprised of the bodhisattva and four attendants. Frequently, depictions of Monju riding his lion are identified as "Monju Crossing the Sea" (Japanese: Tokai Monju zō) where Monju's lion strides across the waters while traveling to Wutaishan, a Chinese mountain where it was believed that he dwelled in Chinese and Japanese Buddhist belief. The presence of attendant figures helps to strengthen this identification. 

Physical Description
Monju (Sanskrit: Mañjuśrī), the bodhisattva of wisdom, is shown riding his typical lion mount being guided by a bearded attendant. Red peony blossoms are shown to the right of the main figures.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type
panel painting

Additional Object Classification(s)

Collection Area

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architectural firms
fragments (object portions)

& Author Notes

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