Sutra of seeing the bodhisattva Fugen

View right to left

Historical period(s)
Heian period, late 12th century
Gold and silver on indigo-dyed paper
H x W (overall): 25.4 x 76.9 cm (10 x 30 1/4 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


Buddhism, cloud, elephant, halo, Heian period (794 - 1185), Japan, Lotus Sutra, mandorla, Samantabhadra
Provenance research underway.

Rendered entirely in gold and silver on indigo-dyed paper, the frontispiece painting of this Buddhist sutra, or sacred text, portrays the bodhisattva Fugen descending to earth riding on a lotus-form pedestal borne by a six-tusked elephant. In a cave at lower left illuminated by rays of light emanating from the deity, a monk recites passages from the Lotus Sutra,the larger work to which this scroll once belonged. Buddhists believed that reciting the text of this scroll would invoke a vision of the deity. The precious materials of gold and silver were employed extensively in Buddhist paintings and sculpture to represent the radiant light that emanated from enlightened deities and sacred space. Here gold and silver are the appropriate media to reveal a miraculous vision.

Published References
  • Chuōkōron bijutsu shuppan. Toshodai-ji kokyō sen. entries 72, 73, and 74.
  • Zaigai Nihon no Shiho [Japanese Art: Selections from Western Collections]. 10 vols., Tokyo, 1979 - 1980. vol. 2: pl. 107.
  • Zaigai hiho [(Japanese Paintings in Western Collections]. 3 vols., Tokyo. vol. 2: pt. I & II, p. 46, pl. 32.
  • Rose Hempel. The Golden Age of Japan, 794-1192. New York. fig. 114.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 1, vol. 2: p. 153.
  • Fu Shen, Glenn D. Lowry, Ann Yonemura, Thomas Lawton. From Concept to Context: Approaches to Asian and Islamic Calligraphy. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 20, pp. 68-69.
  • Sudo Hirotoshi. Heian jidai no teikei kyokan mikaeshi-e ni tsuite [On Frontispieces of some typical Sutras of the Hei'an period]. no. 136 Tokyo, May 1981. pp. 85-118, footnote 33.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 93.
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 170-171.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.