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Illustrated Biography of Prince Shōtoku

Period:
Kamakura period (1185–1333)
Date:
14th century
Culture:
Japan
Medium:
One from a set of 2 hanging scrolls; ink, color, and gold on silk
Dimensions:
Image: 67 5/8 x 33 1/4 in. (171.8 x 84.5 cm) Overall with mounting: 106 x 40 1/2 in. (269.2 x 102.9 cm) Overall with knobs: 106 x 43 1/4 in. (269.2 x 109.9 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number:
29.100.470
Not on view
Prince Shōtoku (574?–622), a fervent champion of Buddhism against the often fierce opposition of the hereditary clans in charge of Shinto ritual, was venerated within a century after his death as an incarnation of the historical (Shakyamuni) Buddha. Tales of his miraculous life, inspired by narratives of the life of the Buddha, were painted in temples and shrines and included among the parables told by priests. These tales played a major part in the spread of popular Buddhism in medieval Japan. As a paragon of Buddhist virtue from a time before sectarianism, Shōtoku appealed to many practitioners of the faith.

This pair of hanging scrolls depicts sixty-two episodes from Shōtoku's life, drawing parallels between him and Shakyamuni Buddha. For instance, while the Buddha's mother, Queen Maya, had a vision of Shakyamuni as a white elephant with six tusks, Empress Hashihito (d. 665) dreamed of her son Shōtoku in the guise of a golden monk. Episodes are illustrated neither chronologically nor in an orderly spatial sequence; events that took place in the same location are, however, arranged closely together. Inscriptions in white cartouches are therefore included to identify each scene.
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