National TreasureIllustrated Biography of Prince Regent Shotoku

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  • 綾本著色聖徳太子絵伝
  • By Hata no Chitei
  • 10 panels
  • Color on figured silk
  • 189.2-190.5x137.2~148.2
  • Heian period/Enkyuu 1(1069)
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • N-1

This set of paintings is the oldest and largest extant illustrated biography of Prince Regent Shôtoku (574-622). It depicts places and events related to the traditional account of his life, stemming from the veneration of the prince that began in the Nara period (710-794). These paintings were originally on fixed doors that adorned the Picture Hall in the East Precinct of Hôryû-ji Temple. They were remounted as freestanding screens in the Edo period (1615-1868), and in recent times were again remounted on ten panels. Records tell us that Hata no Chitei, an artist from Settsu Province (present-day Osaka Prefecture), painted them during the second to fifth month of Enkyû 1 (1069). Although little of the original figured silk ground and polychromy remains, the works still tell us a great deal about large-format narrative painting of the Heian period (794-1185).

Small cartouches pasted on the picture surface have inscriptions that indicate the content of the nearly sixty scenes selected from Prince Shôtoku's life. To the viewer's right is the Asuka region, in the center is the Ikaruga Palace, and on the left side are Shitennô-ji Temple, Naniwa, and China. The depictions of events of Shôtoku's life and the landscape in the background are beautifully integrated in this magnificent composition.