An image of Male and female Shintô deities

Unknown Artist

Male and female Shintô deities

Not on display
Further information

These small, yet dignified, deities are early examples of the representation of Shintō gods, or kami, in human form. They are rendered here as court nobles: the woman dons Chinese Tang-dynasty style robes and coiffure, while the man wears a tall cap and holds a sceptre, now lost, as a symbol of authority. Shintō sculptures were usually carved out of wood – often from old trees revered as the dwelling places of kami – in what is referred to as the 'single-woodblock technique' or ichiboku-zukuri. Appendages such as hands, feet and hand-held attributes were attached separately. Pigments were then applied to delineate garments, but seldom survive with the passage of time.

In Japan, anthropomorphic representations of kami were unknown before the spread of Buddhism in the 6th century. Even today, representations of deities are hidden away in the inner sanctuary of the Shintō shrines.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, September 2011

Place of origin
Japan: Heian period 794–1185
12th century
cypress wood with traces of pigment
a - male deity, 26.5 cm
b - female deity, 21 cm
D G Wilson Bequest Fund 2008
Accession number