Section of a handscroll remounted as a hanging scroll; ink and color on paper; 16 x 14 15/16 in. (40.7 x 38 cm)
Purchase, Gifts of Mrs. Russel Sage, Mrs. Peter Gerhard, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Percy, Charles Stewart Smith, Mrs. V. Everit Macy, Mrs. Thomas Van Buren, Mrs. Charles Stewart Smith, Hartwell J. Staples, Mrs. George A. Crocker and Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Coleman, by exchange; Bequests of Edward C. Moore, James Alexander Scrymser and Stephen Whitney Phoenix, by exchange; Rogers Fund and funds from various donors, 1980 (1980.221)
This pivotal scene from a nine-handscroll set depicts the monk Hōnen (1133–1212), founder of the Pure Land School of Buddhism, inscribing a portrait of himself for one of his foremost disciples, Shinran (1173–1263). The young Shinran, easily recognizable by his bushy eyebrows, waits patiently as his master transcribes a passage from a sutra in which the Buddha Amida (Sanskrit: Amitābha) vows to save all those who call his name. The portrait Hōnen inscribes was made as a copy of the painting hanging in the center of the room. That painting depicts Hōnen with a lotus pedestal above his head, upon which the character for "Buddha," from the phrase "Hail the name of Amida Buddha," is visible. The ShŪikotokuden-e, one of several illustrated biographies of Hōnen, was compiled in 1301 by Shinran's relative Kakunyo (1270–1351) in order to consolidate his position as Shinran's rightful successor. This painting comes from an early copy of the lost original. The text portion preceding the illustration here actually belongs to another section of the same scroll, and describes Hōnen's veneration of a portrait of Shandao. The painting associated with the text preserved here is lost.
On the right side of Hōnen, placed on the tatami mat, we can see a red and black lacquer writing box. The left part of the box contains the inkstone and the water-dropper, while on the right side there is a tray for the writing implements. The "one tray structure" writing boxes appear in paintings from the Kamakura period, but most of the surviving early examples are from the second half of the Muromachi (1392–1573) period. The combination of red and black lacquer indicates a Negoro lacquer box. Negoro ware is a general term for utensils and furnishings practical in the daily life of a Buddhist temple or monastery covered in layers of red lacquer on layers of black lacquer base. After years of usage areas of the black lacquer gradually becomes exposed and an unintentional, abstract pattern is created by the hands of the users. It is believed that the production of these lacquers began in the Negoro Temple in Kii Province (present Wakayama Prefecture) around the late thirteenth century. A Muromachi period Negoro writing box, complete with inkstone and water-dropper, is preserved in the collection of the Kyoto National Museum. Several dated, Muromachi period Negoro inkstone stands (suzuri-dai) are still kept in temple collections.