Dragon’s head sculpture
Kamakura period (1185–1333)
13th–early 14th century Polychrome on wood
Museum purchase made possible
by the Margaret Watson Parker Art
Collection Fund, 1969/2.20
Dragons have a long history in Japan with deep connections to Buddhism. The many words for dragon that are borrowed from Chinese and Sanskrit suggest the amount of dragon mythology brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in the form of ancient Hindu and Chinese legends.
This dragon’s head reflects the increased interest in visually dramatic forms that characterized Kamakura period Buddhist sculpture. The rippling snout and mouth suggest a sense of movement, which would have been further enhanced by the reflections of the gold paint originally used for the teeth and eyes. The bright colors and dynamic carving convey a sense of the power of dragons in premodern spiritual traditions.Within Japanese Buddhism, dragons were associated with water and were called upon in rain rituals. This sculpture was likely mounted on a staff or a piece of furniture in a Buddhist structure.