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Gallery Text

In this section of a decorated Lotus Sutra, lines of

exactly 17 characters float above a galactic display

of silver and gold foil, while in the margins gemlike

lotuses bloom spontaneously in response.

This mid-12th-century fragment of the sutra

(Chapter 23, “The Medicine King”) is an example

of the finest paper decoration from the Heian

period. The ritual adornment (shōgon) of the

text through the attention lavished on the paper

demonstrates the extreme care afforded to the

words of the Buddha, signaling their status as

sacred entities in their own right.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
"The Former Deeds of Bodhisattva Medicine King," Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra (Hokekyō)
Other Titles
Title: Section of the Story of the Bodhisattva Medicine King Bhaishajyarâja (Yakuō Bosatsu), from Chapter 23 of the Lotus Sutra (Saddharma-pundarika sutra; Myōhō-renge-kyō or Hokke-kyō)
Transliterated Title: Myōhō-renge-kyō, Hokke-kyō (Saddharma-pundarika sutra): Yakuō Bosatsu (Bhaishajyarâja)
Work Type
hanging scroll, calligraphy
Late Heian period, c. 1150
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Heian period, Late, 898-1185
Persistent Link

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.)


Recorded Ownership History
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: Myōhō-renge-kyō; 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.

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
  • Masterpieces of world art : Fogg Art Museum, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1997
  • 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, Cambridge, 11/11/2014 - 05/21/2015
  • Prince Shōtoku: The Secrets Within, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/25/2019 - 08/11/2019

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project
  • Collection Highlights

Verification Level

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