39,5 cm (h)
Heian period : 12th century
HITEN 飛天 (Flying Apsara)
Hiten, literally “Flying Apsaras”, are heavenly beings invisible to the human eye, believed to fly with superhuman power and speed. Japanese Buddhist depictions show Apsaras flying over Buddha's pure land, praising him by scattering flowers, playing instruments or burning incense. Celestial beings such as this were usually placed on the rims of a halo or mandorla behind a Buddha image. The swirling pattern of the cloud indicates that the work was placed on the right side of the mandorla. Considering the work’s size, it may have been part of the mandorla that framed a Buddha about five meters in height. Both hands are probably later
additions. Because of the relative proportions of the head and the body, as well as the shape of the clouds, the sculpture appears to have been made in the late Heian Period, around the 12th century. The survival of such celestial beings in private hands is extremely rare.
Appraisal: Itō Shirō, Wakayama Prefectural Museum of Art, and Curator Emeritus, Kyoto National Museum.