© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Prince Shôtoku at Age Two (Shôtoku Taishi Nisaizô)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Shôtoku Taishi Nisaizô
Work Type
figure, sculpture
Kamakura period, datable to circa 1292
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Kamakura period, 1185-1333
Physical Descriptions
Japanese cypress, assembled woodblock construction with polychromy and rock-crystal inlaid eyes
H. 67.9 x W. 24.8 x D. 22.9 cm (26 3/4 x 9 3/4 x 9 in.)
[Yamanaka & Co., Japan] sold; to Ellery Sedgwick, Boston, 1936, by descent; to Walter C. Sedgwick, Woodside, CA (by 1979), promised gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 1979.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick Sr. and Ellery Sedgwick Jr.
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Label Text: 32Q: 2740 Buddhist II , written 2014
This exceptionally fine depiction of Imperial Prince Shōtoku Taishi (574–622), who is still venerated as the founder and first major patron of Buddhism in Japan, is the oldest dated work of its iconographic type. The sculpture portrays Shōtoku at age two, when he is said to have turned east, held his hands together, and chanted the name of the Buddha. The unknown sculptor of this piece has combined adult and youthful features to depict an infant of preternatural enlightened intelligence. Long, slender arms and an expression of intense focus, juxtaposed with juvenile plumpness and simple child’s clothing, convey the combined innocence and wisdom of this semi-legendary figure, who embodies the Buddhist conviction that enlightenment can be attained through unquestioning childlike piety. Like many East Asian wooden sculptures, this image was consecrated in a ritual designed to imbue it with life. At that time, numerous dedicatory objects were placed inside the sculpture’s hollow interior. Amazingly, the cavity remained sealed until the mid-twentieth century when it was opened, revealing a cache of sutras, prayer sheets, and votive offerings presented by the original commissioners of the image.

Publication History

John M. Rosenfield, The Sedgwick Statue of the Infant Shotoku Taishi, Archives of Asian Art (1968-1969), Vol. XXII / pp. 56-79, Fig. 1 / p. 57

Pratapaditya Pal and Julia Meech, Buddhist Book Illuminations, Ravi Kumar (New York, 1988), p. 270, fig. 107

Anne Nishimura Morse and Samuel Crowell Morse, Object as Insight: Japanese Buddhist Art & Ritual, exh. cat., Katonah Museum of Art (Katonah, NY, 1995), pp. 88-89, cat. 33

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), pp.46-47

Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2006-7 (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 11, repr.

Francesca Herndon-Consagra, Reflections of the Buddha, exh. cat., Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis, MO, 2011-2012), p. III (color plate); p. 10, fig. 2; p. 40, no. 1, p. 48 (installation image, detail)

Exhibition History

Later Chinese and Japanese Figure Painting in Decorative Arts, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 02/22/1992 - 06/07/1992

Paragons of Wisdom and Virtue: East Asian Figure Painting, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 02/15/1997 - 09/21/1997

Reflections of the Buddha, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, 09/09/2011 - 03/10/2012

32Q: 2740 Buddhist II, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 06/02/2016

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Related Works

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu