Gyoki was one of the most celebrated Buddhist priests of Japan's Nara period (645-794), revered as much for his spirituality as for his social and civic accomplishments. His most monumental undertaking was the casting of the colossal bronze Buddha of Todaiji temple during the mid-8th century.
This statue of Gyoki was created during the 17th century when interest in the life of the priest was rekindled during the renovation of Todaiji and the bronze Buddha. Based on a 13th century portrait-sculpture now in the collection of Toshodaiji temple in Nara, this work suggests the priest's stern personality and fierce determination. Accomplished priests were believed to be living bodhisattvas. After such a priest died, portrait statues were created and placed in special worship halls where monks made ritual offerings and performed daily religious devotions.