Prince Shōtoku: The Secrets Within

, University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
  • Non-Canonical Text Devoted  to Jizō Bosatsu (Bussetsu Jizō Bosatsukyō)
  • Small Image of Rãgavidyiarãja (Japanese: Aizen Myōō) in a Circular Shrine
  • Small Image of Vaisravana (Japanese: Bishamonten)
  • Relic grains (shari)
  • Text on the Buddhist Rite of Repentance (San Senranchū)
  • Life of Prince Shōtoku (Shōtoku Taishi eden) Fragment
  • Seven Sheets of Paper inscribed with Religious Texts, Poems, Charms [mounted on a board]
  • Four Sheets of Paper inscribed with Religious Texts, Poems, Charms [mounted on a board]
  • Text of the Twenty-Fifth Chapter (Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumonbon) of the Lotus Sutra (Myōhō Rengekyō)
  • Six Sheets of Paper (some double-sided) inscribed with Religious Texts, Poems, Charms
  • Silk Bag
  • Five Ordination Certificates (ninka) [mounted on a board]
  • Small Image of Medicine Buddha Bhaisajyaguru (Japanese: Yakushi Nyorai)
  • Small Image of Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Japanese: Jūichimen Kannon) in a Cylindrical Shrine
  • A Discussion of Monk's Attire (Niehen)
  • Small Seated Image of Rãgavidyiarãja (Japanese: Aizen Myōō)
  • Small Image of Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Japanese: Jūichimen Kannon)
  • Non-Canonical Sutra Booklet without Title Page (text begins
  • A Discussion of the Liturgy of the Six Assemblies (Sen Rokushūhōhen)
  • Prince Shōtoku at Age Two (Shōtoku Taishi Nisaizō)
  • Handscroll format text
  • Four Sheets of Paper inscribed with Religious Texts, Poems, Charms [mounted on a board]
  • Four Sheets of Paper inscribed with Religious Texts, Poems, Charms [mounted on a board]
  • Six Ordination Certificates (ninka) [mounted on a board]
  • Small Image of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha (Japanese: Jizō Bosatsu)
  • Aizen Myoo
On View Locate on Floor Plan University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

This exhibition gives visitors the rare chance to encounter a significant 13th-century Japanese icon, Prince Shōtoku at Age Two, from the inside out. Legendary prince Shōtoku Taishi (c. 574–622) is regarded as the founder of Buddhism in Japan. At two years old (one by the Western count), he was believed to have taken several steps forward, faced east, put his hands together, and praised the Buddha. A sacred relic, the eyeball of the Buddha, then appeared between his hands. The diminutive life-size sculpture—the oldest and finest of its kind—depicts that miraculous moment.

This striking sculpture is remarkable not only for its seemingly animated presence, but also for the cache of more than 70 objects contained within the hollow body cavity. Sealed inside a veritable time capsule for over 700 years, these objects—relic grains, sutras, miniature sculptures, and scraps of paper inscribed with personalized poems and prayers—were carefully removed in the early 20th century. One of the most important objects from the group, an extremely rare printed Lotus Sutra dating to the Southern Song period (c. 1160), was subsequently gifted to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Thanks to the generosity of the Library of Congress, this exhibition reunites the Sutra with the remaining ensemble for the first time in over 70 years.

Also featured in the exhibition is the spectacular 14th-century painting The Legendary Biography of Prince Shōtoku, on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The painting relates several miraculous incidents from the prince’s early life.

Curated by Rachel Saunders, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Associate Curator of Asian Art, Harvard Art Museums.

This exhibition was made possible in part by the Robert H. Ellsworth Bequest to the Harvard Art Museums. Additional support was provided by Harvard University’s Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and by the Harvard Art Museums’ Leopold (Harvard M.B.A. ’64) and Jane Swergold Asian Art Exhibitions and Publications Fund and José Soriano Fund. Support for related programming provided by the Robert and Margaret Rothschild Lecture Fund.

Online Resources
A digital tool on the museums’ website allows visitors to learn more about the individual objects from within the sculpture, drawing on recent research and conservation efforts.

Learn more about the exhibition in our series of short videos available on Vimeo.