Illustrated Biography of Hōnen (Shūikotokūden-e)

Period: Kamakura period (1185–1333)

Date: ca. 1310–20

Culture: Japan

Medium: Section of handscroll mounted as hanging scroll; ink and color on paper

Dimensions: Image: 16 x 14 15/16 in. (40.7 x 38 cm)
Overall with knobs: 54 3/4 x 30 1/2 in. (139.1 x 77.5 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: 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

Accession Number: 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 (1173–1262). 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 (died 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.