Buddha Maitreya (Mile fo)
Northern Wei dynasty (386–534)
Gilt bronze with traces of pigment; piece-mold cast
H. 55 1/4 in. (140.3 cm); W. 24 1/2 in. (62.2 cm); D. 19 1/4 in. (48.9 cm)
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1926
This is the largest early gilt-bronze Chinese sculpture known today. The Buddha's broad shoulders, powerful physique, and long legs derive from fifth-century Indian prototypes that spread to China along the Silk Road. Maitreya is one of the more interesting deities in Buddhism. He is worshiped both as a bodhisattva and a Buddha, for it is believed that once the current, cosmic era has destroyed itself, he will be reborn as the teaching Buddha of the next great era. The identification of this figure as the Buddha Maitreya is based on the large dedicatory inscription at the back of the base, which dates the sculpture to 486 and states that it was made in honor of the dowager empress for the benefit of ten classes of beings. The empress in question is Wenming (442–490), who controlled the Northern Wei dynasty during the last three decades of the fifth century.
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