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figure

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    1938,0715.1

  • Description

    A massive figure of Amitābha Buddha standing on a lotus base, made of white marble, with traces of gilding and pigments and a visible joint at the Buddha’s waist. Two hands are missing but the wooden dowels and iron brackets installed at the end of arms to hold the hands remain. Inscribed and dated.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 585 (Dated by inscription)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 5.78 metres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

        inscription
      • Inscription Script

        Chinese
      • Inscription Comment

        The inscription is dated and names the members of the Yi Yi society who were patrons in the production of the Buddha.
  • Curator's comments

    This figure represents Amitābha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. According to the inscription on the base, it was dedicated to the Chongguang Temple 崇光寺 in Hancui village 韓崔村 in AD585. Both the temple and the village can no longer be identified, but it is thought that the location was south-west of Baoding 保定 in Hebei province, a region known for its white marble sculptures.

    Buddhism was slowly introduced into China from first century AD and was widespread during the period of division from second to sixth century AD. After achieving the reunification of much of China by AD 581, the two emperors of the Sui dynasty (AD 581-618), both devout Buddhists, made Buddhism a state religion. Amitābha, literally meaning boundless light in Sanskrit, is the principal Buddha of the Pure Land sect 淨土宗 popular in China in the sixth to seventh centuries.

    Almost 8m high, this statue is comparable in size with figures carved in the rock at the Buddhist cave temples of central China from the 5th-7th centuries. During this period, Chinese Buddhist sculpture underwent a transition in style. The earliest stylised images gave way to a greater naturalism, characterised with anatomically credible bodies, probably influenced by the art of Gupta India.

    The hands of the statue are missing but the right hand would have been         raised, palm outwards in the gesture of fearlessness (abhaya mudrā), and         the left hand lowered in the gesture of wish-granting (varada mudrā).

    A joint and a polished work surface at the waist show that the statue was carved in two separate parts.

    Traces of pigments on more than one location on the surface suggest that the statue was once covered with gilding and colours.

    Buddhist figures often sit or stand on a lotus. Lotuses, as symbols of purity, enlightenment and divine birth, are an important image in Buddhist art.

    This statue was originally flanked by two smaller figures of bodhisattvas (enlightening beings), one of which is now in the Tokyo National Museum.

    More 

  • Bibliography

    • Zwalf 1985 287 bibliographic details
    • Howard et al. 2006 290, fig. 3.95 bibliographic details
    • Michaelson & Portal 2006 34-35 bibliographic details
    • Pemberton 2002 6 bibliographic details
    • Rawson 1992 figure 106 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (North Stairs)

  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited:

    Chinese Exhibition in London (1935-36)

  • Condition

    The object is intact though clearly cut at the waist in two. It is held in its present position now by a massive iron bracket.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1938

  • Acquisition notes

    Presented by CT Loo to the Chinese Government and via H E the Chinese Ambassador to Britain, to the British Museum. This gift to the Museum was made "to commemorate the International Exhibition of Chinese Art in [...] of goodwill between the two countries" in 1935/6. CT Loo et Cie. is an Asian art dealer in Paris. The NY office lent this piece to the 1935/6 exhibition.

  • Department

    Asia

  • Registration number

    1938,0715.1

COMPASS Title: Marble figure of the Buddha Amitabha

Unknown

COMPASS Title: Marble figure of the Buddha Amitabha

Image description

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Object reference number: RRC11334

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