Focusing on the Benchūhenron Sutra scroll in the Gift of a Lifetime exhibition, this lecture introduces the warlord Fujiwara no Kiyohira (1056–1128) and the projects he undertook in support of his Buddhist faith. Vast in scale and conspicuously lavish in execution, these projects stand both as acts of devotion and testament to his family’s power as warlord rulers on the northern borders of the then Japanese state. Comprising some 5,000 decorated fascicles of sacred Buddhist texts and regulations, the so-called Chūsonji-kyō scrolls were created at Kiyohira’s command for dedication to the temple of Chūsonji. These scrolls are celebrated for their dazzling use of alternating lines of gold and silver characters and their exquisitely painted frontispieces and covers. Remarkably, the greater portion of these twelfth-century scrolls survive, though very few remain at Chūsonji itself. The majority of the scrolls were taken to Mount Kōya’s Kongōbuji temple at the end of the sixteenth century where they remain to this day. Bought by Beatty’s agent in Japan in 1917, the Chester Beatty scroll is one of a small number to have entered a public museum collection.
Dr Mary Redfern joined the Chester Beatty in 2015 as Curator of the East Asian Collection. A specialist in Japanese art, particularly prints and ceramics, her wider research interests include the creation and consumption of art between cultures. Previously, she worked with East Asian collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Museum of Scotland and Bristol’s City Museum and Art Gallery