The Ten Great Disciples are a group of the Historical Buddha Shakyamuni’s most famous immediate followers: Śāriputra, Maudgalyāyana, Mahākāśyapa, Subhūti, Pūrṇa Maitrāyanīputra, Mahākātyāyana, Aniruddha, Upāli, Rāhula, and Ānanda.
These statues were originally installed in the Kyoto temple Jōraku-in, a former sub-temple of Ninna-ji, where they accompanied a Shakyamuni image modeled after the famous tenth-century Northern Song-dynasty sculpture of Shakyamuni enshrined in the Kyoto temple Seiryō-ji. The Jōraku-in Shakyamuni is now owned by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and designated an Important Cultural Property.
Eight of the ten sculptures in the set have been dated to the mid-thirteenth century of the Kamakura period (1185–1333), based on to their naturalistic carving style. The two sculptures of Maudgalyāyana and Rāhula, however, are replacements produced during the Edo period (1615–1868). The original eight images have a more tranquil feel than similar works by the contemporaneous Kei school of sculptors, such as the Ten Great Disciples by Kaikei (act. ca. 1183–1223) at Daihōon-ji in Kyoto. A clue to this difference might be explained by their provenance.
The Ninna-ji sub-temple of Jōraku-in was built on land donated by Inken, a Buddhist sculptor of the In school. The quality of carving on these figures supports the possibility that they were indeed made by In school sculptors. Ninna-ji itself houses a statue of Prince Siddhārtha Gautama (the name he was known as before becoming the buddha Shakyamuni), which was carved in the year 1252 by an In school sculptor named Inchi. Inchi lived a generation or so before Inken, so the Ten Great Disciples sculptures likely predate the image of Siddhārtha. One further point to consider is the fact that the production of the Shakyamuni sculpture that these statues originally surrounded is associated with the eminent medieval Japanese priest Myōe (1173–1232).