Prince Shōtoku: The Secrets Within
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.
A digital tool hosted on the museums’ website will allow visitors to learn more about the individual objects from within the sculpture, drawing on extensive recent research and conservation efforts.