© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
"The Former Deeds of Bodhisattva Medicine King," Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra (Hokekyô)
Other Titles
Title: Section of the Story of the Bodhisattva Medicine King Bhaishajyarâja (Yakuô Bosatsu), from Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma-pundarika sutra; Myôhô-renge-kyô or Hokke-kyô)
Transliterated Title: Myôhô-renge-kyô, Hokke-kyô (Saddharma-pundarika sutra): Yakuô Bosatsu (Bhaishajyarâja)
Work Type
calligraphy, hanging scroll
Late Heian period, c. 1150
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Heian period, Late, 898-1185
Physical Descriptions
Handscroll fragment mounted as a hanging scroll; ink on dyed paper decorated with ink, color, silver pigment, scattered gold- and silver-leaf, and cut-gold ruled lines
handscroll fragment only: H. 25 x W. 44 cm (9 13/16 x 17 5/16 in.)
mounting, including cord and roller ends: 109.2 x 63.5 cm (43 x 25 in.)
Mrs. Donald F. Hyde, New York (by 1977), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1977.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Mrs. Donald F. Hyde
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Of the numerous sutras (Buddhist texts) brought to Japan, the Lotus Sutra (Japanese: Myôhô-renge-kyô; Sanskrit: Saddharma-pundarika sutra) became the most popular and influential. Revered above all others for the salvation it promised to all who recited, recopied, or even ruminated upon it, the Lotus Sutra became a focus of worship for generations of pious Japanese Buddhists. Reading from top to bottom and right to left, this hanging scroll displays a section of the twenty-third chapter of the sutra, which was originally mounted in the horizontal handscroll format. The extant text lists the disease-curing blessings promised to all who worship the Lotus Sutra and ends with the title. The sumptuous paper on which it is written exemplifies a Japanese fascination with sprinkled gold and silver decoration that found its ultimate expression in maki-e (sprinkled design) lacquer. Delicately painted lotus plants line the upper and lower edges of the composition. The lotus is the international symbol of the Buddhist faith, signifying the beauty and purity of the Buddha's teachings despite their origins in this impure world of illusions.

Label Text: Buddhist Art: The Later Tradition (1993) , written 1993
The influence of the Lotus Sutra upon the cultural life of Japan has been so pervasive that it can never be fully described. For centuries, it was Japan’s most commonly accepted doctrine of life and death, human fate and salvation. Less philosophical than the Perfection of Wisdom literature, the Lotus Sutra presents basic principles of Mahayana Buddhism in terms readily understood by the laity, suffused with drama and visionary grandeur. The spirit of piety, salted by the love of worldly luxury, had long moved Eastern Buddhists to write their holy texts on fine papers in elegant scripts. The Japanese aristocracy of the Heian period brought this custom, step by step, to heights unprecedented in the Buddhist world. This fragment of a Lotus Sutra is an excellent example.

Label Text: 32Q: 2740 Buddhist II , written 2014
Of the numerous sutras, or sacred texts, brought to Japan by Buddhist missionaries, the Lotus Sutra became the most popular and influential. Revered above all others for the salvation it promised to those who recited, copied, or even ruminated upon it, this scripture has remained the focus of worship for many Japanese Buddhists over the course of the past millennium. This fragment is characteristic of the finest examples of illuminated sutras from the late Heian period (794–1185), elaborate ornamental works whose luxuriousness expressed the devotion of their aristocratic patrons. Inked in fine calligraphy on decorated paper, the sutra’s borders are painted with lotus plants and cloud-covered mountains. The paper itself is further ornamented with scattered flakes and cut lines of gold and silver leaf. In some areas, azurite pigment has been added to the silver paint to give a blue tone — a subtle detail indicative of the delicacy and attention with which this work has been assembled.

Publication History

John M. Rosenfield, Fumiko Cranston, and Edwin A. Cranston, The Courtly Tradition in Japanese Art and Literature: Selections from the Hofer and Hyde Collections, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1973), Cat. No. 10 / pp. 52-53 (and color plate II & back cover photo)

Yoshiaki Shimizu and John M. Rosenfield, Masters of Japanese Calligraphy, 8th-19th Century, exh. cat., Asia Society Galleries (New York, NY, 1984), Cat. No. 006 / p. 45 and color photo on p. 18

Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 51, p. 50

James Cuno, Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Ivan Gaskell, and William W. Robinson, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, ed. James Cuno, Harvard University Art Museums and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), pp. 74-75, illustrated

Stephan Wolohojian and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), p. 42

Exhibition History

Masterworks of East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 11/03/1995 - 06/09/1996

Japanese Art of the Heian Period (794-1185), Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 06/06/2002 - 07/05/2002

A Compelling Legacy: Masterworks of East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/24/2004 - 03/20/2005

32Q: 2740 Buddhist II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/01/2014 - 05/21/2015

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

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