Burl Root Sculpture

Japanese Burl Root Incense Burner of Daruma in Sanctuary Cave | Early 20th Century Root Sculpture



Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 7-0”h x 9-1/2”w x 8-1/2”d

The practice of using tree roots to make functional and decorative objects has been practiced in China and Japan since primitive society began the craft. "Formed by nature and shaped by humans" is this RARE root carving by a Japanese monk from the Hōrin-ji Temple better known as Daruma-dera, (Kyoto) in 1946 in an effort to gain donations from the temple’s worshippers to build the Daruma-dō (Bodhidharma Hall). 

This beautiful formed incense burner's purpose was first to preserve the natural beauty of wood and the roots’ natural form. Secondly, it was made to function as an incense burner carved and a wooden figure made by what is called ichiboku-zukuri or single block technique to create the image of Daruma, (Da Mo | Bodhidarma in Chinese) and housed it in an imagined environment. The head and body of Daruma are one unit and show him waking up, yawing, and seated inside his meditation cave. It shows great detail of his open and outstretched mouth in the characteristic Daruma yawn and illustrates his large thick eyebrows and closed eyes. Daruma is wrapped in a flowing robe around his body with a hood, (cowl) partially covering his head. The unattached free-form figure of Daruma (Futoo-oo) is seated on a silk fabric remnant (added sometime later in its history) with a small ceramic Dias, (platform) on the base just off to his right and used for burning cone incense. 

This is an object that would have been used in a home altar for daily worship or entrance and where one typically sees a Tokonoma, (alcove with objects that set the mood) and in some cases for guest participation in the tea ceremony. As shown through this creative interpretation, the root carving maintains the earthly form of the root leaving the natural qualities on the outside. Finally, the artist added a labor-intensive and complimenting burnt umber "urushi lacquer" work on the interior with wonderful hand-painted leaf motifs in black which beautify the upper portion of the cavity interior. This piece of folk art is of course unsigned and was purchased from the Yakata Antiques, Kyoto in 1998 where the historical data was obtained at purchase. The piece is published in Expression of Daruma in Folk Art, 2020.

The legend tells us that when the Chinese Shaolin Temple monks invited Da Mo to come to stay at the temple, Da Mo did not reply. Instead, he immediately went to a cave which was located on one of the Peaks in Henan, China (see woodblock inspirational image). Inside the cave, Da Mo sat down facing a wall and immediately began meditating for nine years. Da Mo later founded Chan Buddhism. This artifact is an interpretation of that original legend since Daruma was also influential in establishing Zen Buddhism in Japan and a focus at the Hōrin-ji Daruma-dera Temple.

Condition: This and all associated pieces are in very good condition for their age and show a beautiful and well-polished patination of the gnarled root container and shows the inherent qualities of the root and the carved figure of Daruma. Being a natural free form, the piece was attached to a wooden plinth with dowels when it was made to stabilize the piece. The bottom of the root varied slightly and shows a filling substance to fully balance and fully enclose the base of the piece. 

NOTE: The Hōrin-ji temple where the monk who created the piece resided was founded by a Rinzai Zen monk named Daigu Sōchiku in 1718. The construction of the temple complex took ten years and was completed under the head priest Mankai Jigen in 1727 with financing provided by Araki Iemon, a prominent merchant in the Muromachi district. In this aspect, Hōrin-ji differs from other temples in Myōshin-ji school, as the majority of them were financed by samurai families. The temple had its ups and downs since its founding and fell victim to three natural disasters, but was rebuilt every time from crafts produced and sold to patrons of the temple.

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Customer Reviews

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I recently purchased one of the most beautiful pieces I have purchased in over 10 years. The information you provided was excellent, the piece is in mint condition as advertised, with a subject matter I did not have in my collection.

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