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Gallery Text

These small squares of paper are ordination certificates (ninka) distributed to those who committed to the Buddhist precepts, or ethical code of conduct. Each is inscribed with the Chinese character 可 (certificate) above the Sanskrit syllable vam., a mystical sound or “seed syllable” associated with the Cosmic Buddha. Identical certificates distributed by reformist monk Eison (1201–1290) have been found inside another sculpture, dedicated on the 13th anniversary of Eison’s death at his headquarters, the temple of Saidaiji, in Nara. These certificates are an important indication that the Sedgwick Shōtoku was probably commissioned by nuns affiliated with Eison’s movement, which advocated a corrective return to the Buddhist code of conduct (Vinaya) and the inclusion of nuns as well as monks in the Buddhist monastic community, or sangha.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Six Ordination Certificates (ninka) [mounted on a board]
Work Type
Kamakura period, datable to circa 1292
Creation Place: East Asia, Japan
Kamakura period, 1185-1333
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Ink on paper
H. 30.5 x W. 40.6 cm (12 x 16 in.)


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

Exhibition History

Related Works

Verification Level

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