About this artwork
This rare and important sculpture represents a Buddhist bodhisattva, or bosatsu, an enlightened and compassionate being who postponed Buddhahood in order to help save others. Calm, stately, and full-bodied, the bosatsu is seated in a frontal, meditative pose; his gracefully held hands, raised midair, make a gesture of assurance. Buddhism, which originated in India with the teachings of the Buddha Sakyamuni, or Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-c. 483 B.C.), was named the official religion of Japan at the beginning of the eighth century by the Emperor Shomu (701-56). This small, finely crafted lacquer figure is the only Buddhist sculpture outside Japan that is firmly attributed to the influential sculpture workshop of Todai-ji, the largest and most prestigious of the great state-sponsored Buddhist temples built during the Nara period. This sculpture represents a dramatic shift in Japanese sculptural tradition—a move away from the expensive, time-consuming technique of using lacquer (a resin extracted from the sap of a tree) over a temporary clay core that, once removed, left a sculpture that was completely hollow except for perhaps a wood bracing system. Here a sculpted wood core is overlaid with lacquer-soaked cloth. The innovative sculptors at the Nara temple modeled the wet and pliable surface of the cloth to create fine details such as facial features and jewelry. Finally the sculpture was gilt; traces of gold remain on the bodhisattva’s face and chest.
- Seated Bodhisattva
- 770 CE–780 CE
- Wood core, dry lacquer, traces of gold leaf
- Nara period
- 61 × 43.2 × 32.3 cm (24 × 17 × 12 3/4 in.)
- Kate S. Buckingham Endowment