H. 30 1/4 (76.8 cm); W. 16 in. (40.6 cm); D. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1938
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 207
The attenuated physique and heavy, concealing clothing worn by the Buddha in the center of this sculpture typify art produced in the early sixth century, particularly in the vicinity of the Northern Wei capital at Luoyang, in Henan Province. A badly abraded inscription incised on the back of the base identifies the central figure as Buddha Maitreya, gives the date, and indicates that a certain Gaizhi commissioned the sculpture on behalf of his deceased son. The inscription also expresses the hope that the son and other relatives will eventually be united in the presence of the Buddha. Maitreya is the only divinity in Buddhism revered as both a bodhisattva and a Buddha. Devotion to Maitreya and the desire for rebirth in his Pure Land, known as the Tushita (Contented) Heaven, were widespread in the late fifth and sixth centuries. Rebirth in a Pure Land offered an escape from the harsh realities of daily life while one awaited another, presumably easier, reincarnation. This complex assembly, complete with encircling celestial musicians and a flaming halo, depicts Buddha Maitreya as he descends to earth to rescue the devout.
Inscription: Translation of inscription by A. Lippe in Archives, 1961:
"On the eighteenth day of the ninth month, which begins with a mou-shen day, in the fifth year of the Cheng-kuang (period) of the Great Wei (dynasty),...-wu-chen from the Hsin-shih district for his dead son Kai-chih (had) made one image of Maitreya, wishing that the dead son and his relatives who sitll are at home may forever be united with the Buddha".
Mr. Lippe identifies central figure of altarpiece as Maitreya, the Buddha of the future.