1. Gilded Bronze Image of Budai
circa 16th century
height: 30cm, with: 27.5cm, depth: 18cm
The smiling, corpulent figure of Budai is seated in rajalalilasana. He holds a cloth sack in his left hand and prayer beads in his right. He is dressed in flowing robes with the shoulders and large belly exposed. He has elongated earlobes, a jolly disposition on his face, and realistically-modelled folds of fat around the back of his neck.
He wears an openwork, Tibetan-inspired crown, with six leaves, each cast with a deity figure, and a central peak topped with a spherical finial.
The image retains remnants of lacquer and gilding. The interior of the crown and the figure's lips are coloured with cinnabar red. There are several old casting holes or flaws adjacent to the cloth sack. Overall, the image has clear signs of age and a fine patina.
The name 'Budai' means 'cloth sack', a reference to the bag that he carries. According to Chinese tradition, Budai was an eccentric Chinese Zen monk who lived during the 10th century. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, and so in Chinese nickname translates as 'the Laughing Buddha', and appears throughout Chinese culture as the manifestation of contentment. His persona is not to be confused with the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. This figure is Budai and not Buddha.
The Tibetan influence seen in this figure, most particularly in the form of crown, is a direct consequence of the influence of Tibetan clerics on the Yongle Emperor (r. 1402-1424) whom the emperor welcomed to China.
Clunas, C., & J. Harrison-Hall, Ming: 50 years that Changed China, The British Museum, 2014.
Provenance: private English collection, acquired in Paris around 1946.
Detail: Side View
Detail: Back View