About this artwork
The miniature wooden reliquary displayed here is actually in the shape of a pagoda, or sacred tower. It is one of a set of a million such reliquaries made by the order of Empress Shôtoku (718-770), and therefore, the set is known as the Hyakumantô (one million pagodas). It is believed that the empress ordered these pagodas to be made as a prayer for peace after a violent rebellion in 764.
These reliquaries each held short prayers (darani) of printed text taken from sutras, or sacred writings. A hole was carved into the wooden body of the pagoda to house the rolled-up text, and the ornamental crown acts as a plug. The darani text that was contained in this pagoda, and others like it, are among the oldest printed texts in existence.
This pagoda was acquired before 1917 in Japan by Louise Norton Brown, an avid collector of Japanese printed material. Her collection was acquired by Martin Ryerson, who in turn gave it to the Art Institute.
Currently Off View
- Arts of Asia
- Reliquary and Printed Konpon Darani Text
- 765 CE–775 CE
- Wood with traces of white slip; ink on paper with gold repairs
- Gift of Martin A. Ryerson
- 24574 (1-1-01)