Prince Shōtoku at Age Two, Japanese, Kamakura period, datable to c. 1292. Wood (hinoki cypress) with polychromy; inlaid rock crystal (quartz) eyes. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial and promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick Sr. and Ellery Sedgwick Jr., 2019.122. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Just over 700 years ago, a single piece of hard cypress wood was transformed by the hands of a master sculptor into the soft skin of a small child. With his large head, round belly, and tiny dimpled hands, Prince Shōtoku is immediately recognizable here as an infant. The intimacy of these familiar features invites us to draw closer, into a remarkable encounter with his eyes. Two reflective rock crystal lenses set within delicate lids animate his face, as if he were a living child. The infant prince, who appears to look simultaneously inward and outward, at something beyond our mundane vision, is both an appealing child and a transcendent Buddhist icon. It is in part the seamless melding of these identities that has made him the focus of the spiritual communities that have gathered around him over many generations.

At age two (one by the Western count), the prince amazed his parents by facing east, taking several steps forward, placing his hands together, and praising the Buddha. A relic—the left eyeball of the Buddha—then appeared between his palms. The sculptor captured the narrative by carving Shōtoku’s left knee slightly ahead of his right, creating a sense of movement. X-ray imaging has also revealed the “relic”—a dried lotus seed—between his hands. Offertory incense and candle smoke have darkened his skin, but traces of his original bright white complexion can be seen just above the waistband of his long red hakama trousers. His hair would originally have been the same deep blue-green conventionally used for the depiction of Buddhas.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Prince Shōtoku at Age Two (Shōtoku Taishi Nisaizō)
Other Titles
Transliterated Title: Shōtoku Taishi Nisaizō
Work Type
sculpture, figure
Kamakura period, datable to circa 1292
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Kamakura period, 1185-1333
Persistent Link
Level 2, Room 2740, Buddhist Art, The Efflorescence of East Asian and Buddhist Art
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Japanese cypress (hinoki); assembled woodblock construction with polychromy and rock-crystal inlaid eyes
H. 67.9 × W. 24.8 × D. 22.9 cm (26 3/4 × 9 3/4 × 9 in.)
2.102 kg
[Yamanaka Shoji Co., Ltd, Awata Kyoto (1936)], sold; to Ellery Sedgwick, Beverly, MA, (1936-1960), passed; to his wife, Marjorie Russell, Beverly, MA (1960-1971), inherited; by Ellery Sedgwick, Jr., Gates Mills, Ohio, (1971-1991), inherited; by Walter Sedgwick, Woodside, CA, (1991-2019), partial and promised gift; to the Harvard Art Museums.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial and promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick Sr. and Ellery Sedgwick Jr.
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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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 and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, ed. Stephan Wolohojian, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, 2008), pp.46-47

Thomas W. Lentz, ed., Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2006-7, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, 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)

Rachel Saunders, Secrets of the Sedgwick Shōtoku, Impressions, Japanese Art Society of America (2019), vol. 40, pp. 90-105, pp. 90-105

Kenji Matsuo, "Nuns and Convents in the Eison Order and the Provenance of the Sedwick Shōtoku Taishi Sculpture at the Harvard Art Museums, The Eastern Buddhist, The Eastern Buddhist Society (Kyoto, 2022), vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 1-18, frontispiece, pp. 1-18, plates 1-6

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, 11/16/2014 - 06/02/2016; Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 09/10/2019 - 01/01/2050

Prince Shōtoku: The Secrets Within, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/25/2019 - 08/11/2019

Subjects and Contexts

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