Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Prince Shotoku at Age Sixteen

Nanbokuchō period (1336–92)
14th century
Painted wood with inlaid crystal eyes
H. 30 1/4 in. (76.8 cm); W. 12 3/4 in. (32.4 cm); D. 11 1/8 in. (28.3 cm); H. (with base) 32 3/4 in. (83.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1913
Accession Number:
Not on view
This statue of a youth with his hair tied in two bundles over his ears, a priest's surplice over his court robe, and a censer in his hands is an imaginary portrait of Prince Shōtoku [Shōtoku Taishi] (574?–622) at age sixteen. Initially revered as the founder of Japanese Buddhism, Shōtoku had become the focus of a popular religious cult by the fourteenth century, when this image was carved. Inspired by one of the many episodes in his legendary biography, this statue portrays him as a paragon of filial piety praying for the recovery of his father, Emperor Yōmei, from illness. The success of Shōtoku's prayers resulted in Yōmei's conversion to Buddhism.

Statues and paintings of the heroic prince were produced in great numbers from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, when Shōtoku worship was at its peak. Many are still housed in temples he is said to have founded in the Nara region, where he had a large and devout following. These images of the youthful Shōtoku are among the many forms of child imagery that have had a profound and lasting emotional appeal among followers of popular religions in Japan.
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