Hanging scroll painting with a portrait of the young Prince Shōtoku Taishi

Japan
Kamakura period, early 14th century AD

An early champion of Japanese Buddhism

Prince Shōtoku Taishi (AD 574-622, crown prince and regent to the Empress Suiko from 593) was one of the outstanding figures of ancient Japanese history. An important political and cultural leader, he was instrumental in the establishment of Buddhism in Japan. He showed his piety by making copies of the scriptures and founding several major temples, including Hōryūji near Nara.

During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), over five hundred years after Prince Shōtoku's death, there was a reaction against the Esoteric Buddhist practices of the Heian period (AD 794-1185) and a renewal of devotion to Shaka, the historical Buddha. Prince Shōtoku was sometimes seen as a reincarnation of Shaka and many paintings and statues of him were produced at this time for devotional purposes.

Here he is shown as a 16-year-old youth holding an incense censer and praying for the recovery of his sick father, the Emperor Yōmei (reigned 585-87). At his feet sit two smaller figures in the court dress of the Kamakura period. The round, rather expressionless face is in the Heian tradition, but the sombre richness of the colouring is typical of painting of the Kamakura period.

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More information

Bibliography

L. Smith, V. Harris and T. Clark, Japanese art: masterpieces in (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

Dimensions

Height: 1050.000 mm
Width: 515.000 mm

Museum number

Asia JA JP ADD370 (1961.4-8.01)

JCF7346

Location

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