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Bodhisattva Maitreya
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Bodhisattva Maitreya

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Description The future Buddha Maitreya is represented here as a bodhisattva, presumably in Tushita heaven, from where he will descend to earth at the appropriate time. Seated in the meditation posture, his left hand is in his lap, and the right displays the teaching gesture. Two leafy stalks of flowers rise from the lotus base along his arms. A small water pot ("kundika") sits on top of the bloom to his left, and the flower on the other side is probably the "nagakesara," both of which are emblems of the bodhisattva. Elaborately bejeweled like a bodhisattva, he is distinguished by a crossbelt on his torso with a square clasp in the middle. This is an accouterment that is not usually encountered in Maitreya images but is sometimes seen on mahasiddhas and protective deities. However, it is not inappropriate for a signifier of a hero, which a bodhisattva is. Very likely, the bronze was cast for a patron in Gyantse in Tsang, for it relates stylistically to other versions both in painting and in sculpture, that may be associated with the construction of the famous Kumbum temple in the town during the late fifteenth century. Most Tibetan metal images are hollow and enclose relics and mantras that are then sealed permanently with a plate, which is either left plain or sealed with the thunderbolt motif. This particular Maitreya, however, has a more ambitious plate embellished with etched designs: the double thunderbolt, the eight auspicious symbols of good fortune ("ashtamangala") as well as the yang and yin emblems. X-radiography shows a thin-walled, intricately hollow-cast figure with a large central cavity that likely contains sacred scrolls or texts that were deposited within the sculpture during its consecration for use. Areas of thickened metal appear white. The high energy x-rays needed to penetrate the metal obliterates any image of the low density paper scrolls within, but the image confirms a hollow central cavity within the base, capable of holding votive scrolls.The underside of the figure is sealed with a copper plate engraved with a double thunderbolt and imagery indicating good fortune. Multicolored decorative metal inlays ornament the metal folds of the bodhisattva’s robes and his face. A closer look at the eyes shows how different colored metals were skillfully used to create color and contrast: the blackened pupil is set against a silver iris, which is surrounded by copper red sclera (the part of the eye that surrounds the iris). Engraved details, created by the artist’s hand after casting, further embellish the surface. Black material left within recesses of hair may be remnants of ritually applied oils or resins that were also a part of the consecration process.
  • Desire and Devotion: Art from India, Nepal, and Tibet in the John and Berthe Ford Collection. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara; Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham; Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong. 2001-2003.
Provenance Kikko, Houston [private gallery; purchased by John and Berthe Ford, Baltimore, November 15 1976; given to Walters Art Museum, 2013.
Credit Gift of John and Berthe Ford, 2013

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ca. 1500
brass with copper and silver inlay
Accession Number
H: 7 5/8 x W: 4 1/2 x D: 3 1/2 in. (19.4 x 11.4 x 8.9 cm)


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