Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Jesus Modeled on Japanese Nio Statues?

Okay, here’s an interesting one: how does Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of Jesus in the Last Judgment Scene look so similar to Japanese Nio statues? Look at the musculature, the abs, the almost martial-arts/tai chi-like pose…the position of one hand up by the ear in a blocking or striking motion and the other hand down lower in a blocking or striking motion…note the naked torso, the flowing cloth around the waist, and the nimbus around Jesus’ head area that distinctly mirrors the piece of cloth or nimbus floating around the Nio statue’s heads…quite an interesting art historical/cultural transmission question to me!

Of course, the origins of the Nio statues are in Buddhism, from India, so there may have been cultural transmission regarding these statues from either Japan or India…I wonder when and how though? It’s quite a meme, such a distinct figure for Michelangelo to pick up on however–and when you think about it, he’s rely basing his image of Jesus on a Buddhist figure, that’s very meta of him. I wonder what it means, is it subversive at all? Did artists in Michelangelo’s time have access to images of lots of Japanese and Buddhist art? Was it ever like how Impressionists openly took cues from Japanese art? Here’s another good Nio statue picture.

Maybe I’ll contact Matt Welch who has an interview up with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts discussing Nio statues:

“Interview with Matt Welch, Curator of Korean and Japanese Art

1. Can you tell us what these imposing figures are, and what they have to do with Buddhism?

Yes, we’re looking at Buddhist guardians called Nio (pronunciation: “nee-OH”), literally, “Two Kings.”

Within the vast Buddhist pantheon, the Nio are members of a group of heavenly beings, known as devas (pronunciation: “DEY-vahss”), that generally serve Buddhism as guardians or attendants to Buddhas or bodhisattvas.

Devas that serve in the role of guardians are typically represented as ferocious beings with agitated bodies and scowling faces. Many people are surprised by these threatening figures because they contradict their conception of Buddhist deities as supremely calm and introspective.”

Here’s more info on Nio guardian statues

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2 Responses

  1. No. Before the arrival of Chinese and Korean immigrants and merchants and the ideas they brought with them, Japan was a disconnected, primitive, stone-age society.

    This deity is Fuujin, who along the Silk Road was taken from the Greek god Aeolus who was in turn taken from the Indo-European proto-god of the wind.

    Michelangelo, an Italian from the 16th Century studied ancient Greek and Roman statues during the period known as Renaissance, where he studied the human body and the function each muscle had.

    To that effect, he was able to imitate his artistic predecessors such as Phideas and other anonymous sculptors.

    The Japanese statue and Michelangelo are not directly mutually inspired, but are indirectly inspired by Indo-European influences.

    Make no mistake, however; Michelangelo is far more superior in his craft and scholarship of the human body than the highly derivative craftspeople of Japan during the making of these Fuujin statues.

  2. I definitely acknowledge the possibility of mutual inspiration from India as I wrote in the post. Japan may have been less developed before the arrival of Chinese and Korean culture, but that was way before the 16th century and Michelangelo; I’m not sure what your point was in writing “Before the arrival of Chinese and Korean immigrants and merchants and the ideas they brought with them, Japan was a disconnected, primitive, stone-age society.”

    This isn’t an argument about originality and nationalistic origins of creativity, just examination into influence. Such as how pasta is thought to have originated in Arab countries, not Italy. http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/pastas/history-of-pasta.asp
    http://www.lifeinitaly.com/food/pasta-history.asp
    I am more interested in examining cultural influences via trade than wondering whether some peoples or other were “primitive” or not before x, y, or z.

    Here is some info from Wikipedia about culture in Japan, Japan, way before the 16th century:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan about even eight century

    “The Nara period of the eighth century marked the first emergence of a strong central Japanese state, centered around an imperial court in the city of Heijō-kyō, or modern day Nara. In addition to the continuing adoption of Chinese administrative practices, the Nara period is characterized by the appearance of a nascent written literature with the completion of the massive chronicles Kojiki (712) and Nihon Shoki (720). (Nara was not the first capital city in Japan, though. Before Nara, Fujiwara-kyō and Asuka served as capitals of the Yamato state.)

    In 784, Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to Nagaoka-kyō for a brief ten-year period, before relocating it to Heian-kyō (modern day Kyoto) in 794, where it remained for more than a millennium.[18] This marked the beginning of the Heian period, during which time a distinctly indigenous Japanese culture emerged, noted for its art, poetry and literature. Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji and the lyrics of modern Japan’s national anthem, Kimi ga Yo were written during this time.[19]

    Japan’s feudal era was characterized by the emergence of a ruling class of warriors, the samurai. In 1185, following the defeat of the rival Taira clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed Shogun and established a base of power in Kamakura. After Yoritomo’s death, the Hōjō clan came to rule as regents for the shoguns. Zen Buddhism was introduced from China in the Kamakura period (1185–1333) and became popular among the samurai class. The Kamakura shogunate managed to repel Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281, aided by a storm that the Japanese interpreted as a kamikaze, or Divine Wind. The Kamakura shogunate was eventually overthrown by Emperor Go-Daigo, who was soon himself defeated by Ashikaga Takauji in 1336. The succeeding Ashikaga shogunate failed to control the feudal warlords (daimyo), and a civil war erupted (the Ōnin War) in 1467 which opened a century-long Sengoku period.”

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