KYOTO--The Kyoto National Museum made a startling discovery during routine preparations for an upcoming special exhibition here.

A staff member noticed the name of a renowned but little-known sculptor scrawled faintly on two of three Buddhist statues that will be displayed.

Venerated for centuries at Monmyoji temple, the statues turn out to have been carved by a disciple of Kaikei, who lived in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333).

The museum said Dec. 17 that the wooden Amida Sanzonzo statues at the temple in Sakyo Ward are definitely works by Gyokai, an artisan of whom little is recorded.

As only seven works by Gyokai had been known to exist, the museum called its discovery “important for studying Gyokai, a figure shrouded in mystery.”

In preparation for its special exhibition “Art of the Ji Shu,” the museum removed the statues from a sacred “zushi” cabinet at the temple belonging to the Ji Shu sect to be photographed.

It was then that staff noticed that the word “Gyokai” was written in ink on the bases of two statues.

The 83-centimeter-tall Amida Ryuzo is flanked by the 59-cm Kannon Bosatsu Ryuzo and 58.2-cm Seishi Bosatsu Ryuzo. As a set, the statues are known as Amida Sanzonzo.

Takeshi Asanuma, head of the Cooperation and Education Department in the museum’s Curatorial Division, examined the statues and said the signature was handwritten by Gyokai.

He also said though Gyokai’s signature has not been found on Amida Ryuzo, the statue is likely Gyokai’s work as well, because it matches characteristics associated with the master carver.

Noting that the statues look vigorous and clean-cut, Asanuma estimated that Amida Sanzonzo dates back to the late 1230s and 1240s, when Gyokai was head of a sculptor's studio.

The Amida Sanzonzo will be displayed from April 13 through June 9. The exhibition is co-sponsored by The Asahi Shimbun and other parties.

For details, contact the Kyoto National Museum at 075-525-2473.