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Buddha Shakyamuni
10th century
Copper alloy
8 ¼ in (21 cm)

Though not large, this is a fine and classic example of an early Buddha image from the Kathmandu Valley. Several stone versions surviving in the valley belong generally to the Lichchhavi period; a precise date is not easy to determine. There seems no doubt that the image type was basically inspired by the fifth-century Buddha icons created at Sarnath in India and had a long life in the valley, as indicated by this example, probably a work from the end of the Lichchhavi period, but no later than the tenth century. The only dated image, either in stone or in bronze, is a solitary Buddha in the Cleveland Museum cast in 591 (von Schroeder 1981, fig. 74E). The closest stylistic comparisons for the Ford sculpture are offered by a small bronze Buddha in The British Museum given a tenth-century date by von Schroeder (ibid., figs. 82A) and stone Buddhas of the ninth and tenth centuries (Pal 1974, figs. 170 and 180). There are some noteworthy differences, however.

The Ford Buddha stands on a lotus in the usual contrap-posto posture with his right hip swinging outward. His right arm hangs down with the hand displaying the gesture of charity, and the left, raised high to the shoulder, grasps the gathered ends of his garment. The markings on the palm are clearly visible, as are the incisions on the lotus base. The edges of the otherwise transparent garment have been modeled to indicate volume, but the usual overlapping folds along the sides, typical of all early Nepali Buddha images in stone as well as bronze, have been eschewed for the almost stark simplicity one encounters in Gupta-period Sarnath images (see ibid., fig. 19). The slim, elegant proportions, however, are characteristic of Buddha images of the ninth and tenth centuries.

Another detail that distinguishes this Buddha is the flame aureole, only parts of which remain attached to the base. This feature is missing in all published bronzes except The British Museum figure referred to above. There, however, the aureole is a complete oval joined at the bottom behind the Buddha's feet. In the Ford bronze, the aureole terminates at the two ends of the lotus, thereby providing a break in the continuity of the lower arc. This mode of joining the aureole to the lotus is more common in Pala-period bronze images. Thus, while iconographically the Ford Buddha conforms to the Lichchhavi-period image type, stylistically it offers interesting variations, reflecting the unknown sculptor's idiosyncratic preferences.

all text and images © The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore

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