Ming Dynasty 1368–1644, dated 1521 CE
Bodhisattva is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated Bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish and a compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. Accordingly Bodhisattvas were a popular subject in Buddhist Art, and the present sculpture would originally have served a Buddhist sanctuary where people visited and worshipped the statue as the god of compassion.
The Bodhisattva’s is depicted with a high chignon ushnisa symbolizing his wisdom, and with elongated earlobes refering to the Buddha. His right hand is raised in abhaya mudra, the gesture symbolising fearlessness and his spiritual power. The god’s right leg is raised, with the foot and left hand resting on his left knee. He wears a folded ankle-lenght sanghati tied by a string belt with a bow knot. His left foot is just visible below the pleated cloth and rests on the lotusthrone. Long beaded pendants decorated with floral motifs fall from a scallop-edged necklace.
Cast iron was invented in China as early as the 5th century BC and was seen as a symbol of strength, determination, integrity and justice. The Chinese acquired a great mastery of the technique; in this statue the joins can be seen as the alloy can not be forged, it has to be cast in the molten state immediately into the desired shape. The Ming dynasty ruled China for 276 years (1368-1644). The Zhengde Emperor (1491-1521) was the 10th emperor of the Ming dynasty ruling between 1505-1521. His name means ‘Rectification of virtue’, and his reign marked a period enjoying peace and prosperity. The Bodhisattva’s extensive inscription at the front of the throne mentions the last year of the Zhende period dating it to 1521 CE. The sculpture is closely related with a number of other iron cast examples. A Buddha dated to 1520 CE, now in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, bears similar stylistic characteristics, including the proportions of the head and hands, the shape of the pedestal and the garment, and the serene expression.
The sculpture has a majestic presence and is of a focused shape, beautifully complemented by the fine folded pleats, and the large lotusleaves. The eye is drawn to the face with its beautiful peaceful and inspired expression.
Collection A. Förster, Vienna, before 1930.
Museum for Applied Art, ‘On the Occasion of the 6th Meeting of German Orientalists’, Vienna, June 1930, fig. 52.
Museum for Applied Art, ‘On the Occasion of the 6th Meeting of German Orientalists’, Vienna, June 1930.
G. Gabbert, Buddhistische Plastik aus Japan und China, Köln, 1972, pp. 327–333, fig. 103.
R.Y. Lefebvre d’Argencé, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in The Avery Brundage Collection, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1973, figs. 162, 164.
Hai-wai Yi-chen, Chinese Art in Overseas Collections, Buddhist Sculpture, Taipei, National Palace Museum, 1990, p. 192, fig. 177.