The Bodhisattva Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future

Period: Thakuri period

Date: 11th century

Culture: Nepal (Kathmandu Valley)

Medium: Copper alloy with gilding and color

Dimensions: H. 26 in. (66 cm); W. 8 1/4 in. (20.9 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1982

Accession Number: 1982.220.12


Throughout most of its early history, Nepal seems to have maintained close cultural relations with India. This is reflected in Nepalese art styles. In this sculpture, the elegance of the Pala style at Nalanda is apparent, but it is combined with a wholly Nepalese aesthetic. Maitreya, the messianic bodhisattva, stands in a pronounced tribhanga (triple-bend) posture. The sensual exaggeration of the pose is most unusual for Nepalese art of this early period. In his lowered left hand Maitreya holds a vessel; in his raised right hand he may originally have held a rosary. He is dressed in a long skirt with simple incised decoration; a sash is slung diagonally from his right hip to left thigh. He wears the sacred thread across his chest and is adorned with the jewelry typical for the period.

This representation of Maitreya is an extraordinarily radiant, elegant, and sensuous sculpture. Not only is this among the largest early Nepalese bronzes in the West, it is the only example of such refined elegance combined with an almost austere economy of surface decoration. A master sculptor with a highly developed aesthetic sensibility produced an image combining a deep spiritual presence with a most beautifully arranged system of volumes.

Maitreya achieved a wide popular following throughout the Buddhist world. His devotees aspired to be reborn in his paradise or to be present when he descended to earth to become the Buddha of the next great kalpa, or world-age.