Illustrated biography of the monk Ippen

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Historical period(s)
Kamakura period, mid-14th century
Ink and color on paper
H x W (overall): 31.7 x 276.9 cm (12 1/2 x 109 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


Buddhism, Japan, Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), makimono, monk, prayer beads, Pure Land Buddhism, umbrella, WWII-era provenance
Provenance research underway.

In 1299, only a decade after his death, the life of the charismatic mendicant Ippen (1239-1299) was celebrated in a massive and lavishly produced set of twelve horizontal silk scrolls. A testimony to Ippen's popularity, this was to be the most extensive and brilliantly executed visual biography of any Japanese religious leader.

Ippen and his disciples traversed eastern and central Japan endorsing the devotional prayer form of odori nembutsu, a dance that involved rhythmic, repeated invocations of the Amida Buddha. This simple prayer was said to guarantee salvation. The painting seen here is a fragment from a later edition of the Ippen biography, dating from about a century after Ippen's death. Produced on paper and less elaborate than the original, this work testifies to the sustained appeal of the master's simple teachings.

The narrative scroll was a format frequently used to describe the lives of spiritual leaders or the foundation of religious movements and famous temples. As a detailed record of daily life in early medieval Japan these paintings are invaluable social documents.

Published References
  • Zaigai Nihon no Shiho [Japanese Art: Selections from Western Collections]. 10 vols., Tokyo, 1979 - 1980. vol. 2: 158, pl. 105.
  • Zaigai hiho [(Japanese Paintings in Western Collections]. 3 vols., Tokyo. vol. 2: pt. 2, p. 89.
  • Mayuyama Junkichi. Japanese Art in the West. Tokyo. pl. 132.
  • Unknown title. no. 768 Tokyo. pl. 1.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 13, vol. 2: p. 155.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 101.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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