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A wooden sculpture of a young boy standing upright. The boy is wearing a long, red piece of clothing that goes from his hips and covers his feet. His hands are together in front of his chest. The boy is bald and is looking down at his hands.

The wooden sculpture is of a young boy standing upright and facing the viewer. He is wearing a red piece of clothing that goes from his hips and covers his feet. His hands are together and in front of his chest. His face is very round with round red lips, slender eyes that gaze down at his hands, and furrowed brows. He is bald and is colored black on the top part of his body and golden colored on the bottom part.

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
figure, sculpture
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


Recorded Ownership History
[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)
  • Keizaburō Mizuno, ed., Nihon chōkokushi kiso shiryō shūsei (Compendium of the History of Japanese Sculpture), Chūō Kōron Bijutsu Shuppan (Tokyo, 2019)
  • Rachel Saunders, Secrets of the Sedgwick Shōtoku, Impressions, Japanese Art Society of America (2019), vol. 40, pp. 90-105, pp. 90-105
  • Rachel Saunders, “Hābādo Daigaku Bijutsukan shozō Shōtoku Taishi nisai zō ni komerareta imi” (Interpreting the Sculpture of Prince Shōtoku at Age Two at the Harvard Art Museums), Zōkei no poetika: Nihon bijutsushi o meguru aratana chihei (The Poetics of Form: New Horizons in Japanese Art History), ed. Sano Midori Festschrift Committee, Seikansha (Tokyo, 2021), pp, 71-86
  • 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
  • Rachel Saunders, Angela Chang, Penley Knipe, and H. Greg Lin, “Hābādo Bijutsukan shozō Namu Butsu Taishi zō: kyōdō kenkyū to sono seika” (When Art Meets Science: Interdisciplinary Research and Prince Shōtoku at Age Two at the Harvard Art Museums), Hābādo Bijutsukan Namu Butsu Taishi zō no kenkyū, Chūō Kōron Bijutsu Shuppan (Tokyo, 2023), pp. 191-235
  • Mika Abé, Yasurō Abé, Kensuke Chikamoto, Rachel Saunders, Ai Seya, and Takayuki Seya, ed., Hābādo Bijutsukan Namu Butsu Taishi zō no kenkyū (The Sculpture of Prince Shōtoku at Age Two at the Harvard Art Museums), Chūō Kōron Bijutsu Shuppan (Tokyo, 2023)

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

  • Collection Highlights

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Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at