Artist: Utagawa Yoshitora (歌川芳虎)

Print: Death of Buddha - the 'Nehanzō [涅槃像]

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Dates: created,circa 1850
Dimensions: 9.75 in,14.5 in,Overall dimensions
Medium: color woodblock print

Publisher: Maruya Seijirō (Marks 299 - seal 27-010)

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Physical description:

"Paintings of the death of Buddha, called in Japan 'Nehanzō (Nehan means Nirvāṇa and means image) are not so numerous in Japan's Buddhist art, in comparison to paintings of Amida, Jizō etc."

Quoted from: Indian Influence on the Art of Japan by Sampa Biswas, p. 129.

"The iconographic prescriptions for the Japanese Nehanzō picture do not appear very strict, as no exact rules concerning the choice of figures and their place in the composition seemed to have existed.In this painting belonging to Kongōbuji, Kōyasan of 1986, names of many of the mourning figures are mentioned - Kannon, Fugen, Monju, Jizō, Māra, Jivaka, Kinnara."

Biswas goes on to note (p. 130) that scenes of the death of Buddha do not traditionally include mourning animals. The author states that she believes that this form of iconography was a Chinese invention which was then adopted by the Japanese.


Among the menagerie of creatures is an elephant, a pair of mandarin ducks, a peacock, a dragonfly - a symbol of Japan, animals of the zodiac including a goat, a tiger, a boar, a hare, a horse, etc., a lion, a snail, a snake, a cricket, a praying mantis, a worm, a toad or frog, a wasp, a turtle, a crab, a slug, a lion, et al. Hovering, low to the ground, right above these animals is an apsara flying figure beating a drum hanging on a cord around her neck. Other figures in the lower half of this composition include two, muscular temple guardians - Niō (仁王) and Kongōrikishi (金剛力士), an oni, Ema-O - the overseer of the Buddhist hell, a horned dragon, and many others.

Most of the non-human(like) figures on this composition are identified by cartouches with their names indicated in kana.