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Male Figure, possibly Prince Shotoku
Japan; Kamakura period (1185-1333), early 14th century
Gilt bronze
H. 9 5/8 in. (24.4 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection of Asian Art
Although this charming figure has not been conclusively identified, his formal court robes and looped braids suggest that he is Prince Shotoku (reigned 593-622), one of the most important figures in Japanese history. Appointed regent to his aunt, the Empress Suiko (reigned 536-628), when he was nineteen years old, Prince Shotoku was the catalyst for many of the political, economic, and religious changes that marked Japanese history in the late 6th and early 7th centuries. He is also venerated for his commentaries on three famous sutras, his encouragement of Buddhism, and his patronage of Buddhist art and architecture. Prince Shotoku is often represented in Japanese art and there is a standard iconography for different phases of his life. In particular, three events in his legendary biography are depicted -- his proclamation of his devotion to Buddhism at age two, his pious attendance at the side of his ill father at age sixteen, and his skillful governance as regent at the age of forty-five. The court garments, a heavy outer robe and trousers, worn by this figure suggest that it was most likely intended to represent Prince Shotoku as regent. Images of Prince Shotoku as regent generally hold a scepter. As this sculpture's hands and the box they hold are modern replacements, it seems likely that, given the position of the hands, this image originally held that implement.
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