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Marcel Nies

14. Maitreya
15th century
Copper alloy, gilded, cast in the lost wax method, blue pigments, inlaid with turquoise
height 42.5 cm.


Maitreya, 'the Buddha of the future', is the one who will take the place of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni. He waits in the tusita heaven for the moment he is to appear on earth as the Buddha of the fifth world cycle. In this portrait, Maitreya is depicted as a Bodhisattva; at present he is considered as one of the dhyani-Bodhisattvas, the actual creators of the universe. In the future Maitreya will be like Sakyamuni, a mortal Manusi Buddha who lives on earth for a while in order to teach mankind the doctrine and to guide them to the path of Buddha. Maitreya, 'the loving one' is an important and popular deity who is widely worshipped in the Himalayan regions.

One of the characteristics of Buddha Maitreya is his seated posture of bhadrasana; this posture of benevolence, seated on a throne with his both legs pendant and resting on a lotus support, looks like the European sitting fashion. His raised right hand is in the discerning gesture of vitarka mudra, with thumb and finger touching. This indicates the belief that Maitreya will constantly be giving teachings at his residence in the tusita heaven until the time he descends into this world as the next Buddha. With his left hand in dhyani mudra, Maitreya's hair is piled up in a high coiffure falling in locks onto his shoulders, a cintamani (a flaming pearl) depicted on top. He wears a five- leaved crown with the image of a kirtimukha, a mythical animal, in its central leaf, and has an urna (third eye) placed on his forehead. Wearing a finely folded lower garment, the Bodhisattva is richly adorned with circular earrings, three necklaces, bracelets, anklets, strings of pearls and ornaments, part of which are engraved with finely delineated flower motifs.

Revealing some influence from the neighbouring Nepalese newari craftsmen, this fine and large temple (monastery) bronze is most likely from a South-Central Tibet. Typical features are the construction of the throne, which is carried by scrolling supports, the pronounced feet and fingers which all have their own position, the style of the jewellery, the finely folded lower garment, the casting in a copper alloy and the colour of gilding. These stylistic characteristics and elements, as well as the convincing appearance of the piece, form a basis to date it not later than the 15th century.

As exemplified by the powerful positioning of his hands, the composition of this image is well modelled, depicting a wonderful body with beautiful volumes and finely delineated features. Maitreya's monumental appearance is enhanced by the subtle tension of his upright body, revealing his noble nature as a great teacher. His full face has a serene, youthful and lively expression which in addition heightens the quality of sublime perfection.


all text, images © Marcel Nies

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