A Peek into Our Collections: Prince Shotoku at Age Two

October 2, 2014
Prince Shōtoku at Age Two, c. 1292. Japanese cypress; assembled woodblock construction with polychromy and rock-crystal inlaid eyes. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick, Sr., and Ellery Sedgwick, Jr., 99.1979.1.

Showcasing the breadth and depth of our collections—from ancient to modern times and across a variety of media—A Peek into Our Collections offers a window on what will be on view when our new facility opens to the public on November 16.

Prince Shōtoku at Age Two, c. 1292, Japanese, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum.

With its body carved from Japanese cypress and eyes inlaid with crystal, this sculpture projects an otherworldly wisdom in its masterful blend of adult and youthful features. It portrays the Japanese imperial regent Shōtoku Taishi (572–622) as a toddler at the moment when, according to legend, he turned east, joined his hands in prayer, and chanted the name of the Buddha, causing a religious relic to appear. Prince Shōtoku was instrumental in the dissemination of Buddhism in Japan.

Like many East Asian Buddhist sculptures, this figure was consecrated in a ritual designed to imbue it with life; numerous dedicatory objects were placed inside it. When the cavity was opened in the mid-20th century, a cache of more than 70 devotional items was discovered, including sutras, prayer sheets, and votive offerings.

This sculpture is part of a promised gift from Walter C. Sedgwick.

See other highlighted objects here.