The Buddha at Birth

Historical period(s)
Asuka period, 7th century
Gilt bronze
H x Diam (overall): 11.7 x 5.2 cm (4 5/8 x 2 1/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Sylvan Barnet and William Burto in honor of Yanagi Takashi
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Sculpture

Figure: Buddha

Asuka period (552 - 710), birth, Buddha, Buddhism, Japan

Takashi Yanagi Oriental Fine Arts 古美術 柳, Kyoto, Japan, method of acquisition unknown[1]

Sylvan Barnet (1926-2015) and William Burto (1921-2013), purchased from Takashi Yanagi Oriental Fine Arts, Kyoto,Japan [2]

From 2005
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Sylvan Barnet and William Burto [3]

[1] See Shōichi Uehara, "Two Statues of Buddha at His Birth" in Kobijutsu, no. 22 (March 1971), 95-97. See also note 2.

[2] Sylvan Barnet and William Burto began collecting works of Japanese art in the 1960s, shortly after they began their careers as literature professors. They acquired this work in Kyoto Japan in 1971 from Takashi Yanagi Oriental Fine Arts. See acquisition justification form, copy in object file.

[3] See deed of gift, signed November 28, 2005, object file.

Research updated February 24, 2023.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Takashi Yanagi Oriental Fine Arts
William Burto 1921-2013
Sylvan Barnet 1926-2015


Buddhist sacred texts (sutras) record the miraculous acts of the Historical Buddha soon after his birth. The infant took seven steps and pointed to heaven and earth, declaring himself to be the lord of the cosmos and savior of all sentient beings- an event depicted by this miniature sculpture cast in bronze. It is a rare example of a gilt-bronze image produced in Buddhism’s earliest phase in Japan, after its introduction from Korea in 538. This figure, standing on a base that was replaced later, closely resembles an image designated as an Important Cultural Property in the Shogenji, a Buddhist temple in Aichi Prefecture, Japan. The style reflects the refined work of the Tori school of professional Buddhist sculptors who produced a bronze image of the Historical Buddha and two attendant bodhisattvas (enlightened beings), dated 623, for the Horyuji in Nara.

Published References
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 48-49.
  • Miyeko Murase, Sylvan Barnet. The Written Image: Japanese Calligraphy and Painting from the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto Collection. Exh. cat. New York, New Haven and London. pp. 68-71.
  • Futatsu no tanjobutsu [Two Images of Buddha at Birth]. no. 22, March 1971. pp. 95-97.
  • Donald S. Lopez Jr, Rebecca Bloom. Hyecho's Journey: The World of Buddhism. Chicago, December 2017. p. 143, fig. 15.
  • Washizuka Hiromitsu. Transmitting the Forms of Divinity: Early Buddhist Art from Korea and Japan. Exh. cat. New York. cat. 25, pp. 240-41.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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