About This Artwork

Artist unknown

Kobo Daishi (Kukai) as a Boy (Chigo Daishi), 15th century

Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk
86.7 x 48.9 cm (34 1/8 x 19 1/4 in.)

Gift of the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation, 1959.552

Kukai (774–835) was an influential religious leader responsible for introducing Shingon Buddhism, a form of Esoteric Buddhism, to Japan in the ninth century. After his death, Kûkai received the name Kôbô Daishi (Great Teacher of the Divine Law) and was revered as a saint.

The inscription at the top of this painting is a quotation from the Goyuigo, a set of instructions believed to have been prepared by Kukai for his disciples. In the passage, Kukai describes a dream he had as a child in which he was carried aloft on an eight-petaled lotus flower to a heavenly realm where he conversed with various Buddhas. The practice of depicting religious leaders as children during miraculous moments in their lives would have been keenly reassuring to Buddhist devotees.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Publication History

Mayuyama Junkichi. Japanese Art in the West. Tokyo: Mayuyama and Co., Ltd., 1966, fig. 108 page 93.

Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America, 1959.

Jack V. Sewell, "Notes on Two Recently Acquired Japanese Portraits," (The Art Institute of Chicago Quarterly, 1960), pp. 10-11.

Interpretive Resources

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