Pensive bodhisattva

Period: Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.–A.D. 676)

Date: mid-7th century

Culture: Korea

Medium: Gilt bronze

Dimensions: H. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm); W. 4 in. (10.2 cm); D. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 2003

Accession Number: 2003.222


Images of the pensive bodhisattva—many representing Maitreya, bodhisattva of the future—were produced from India to Japan. In Korea, the type emerged as an important Buddhist icon during the sixth and seventh centuries in the three kingdoms of Koguryō, Paekche, and Silla. While the iconographic and stylistic origins can firmly be traced to India and China, the pensive statue is one of the most distinctively Korean of Buddhist sculptures. This piece is among the best preserved and most attractive of the extant Korean pensive images.

The pensive bodhisattva is easily identifiable by its unique pose. The deity sits with his right leg crossing the pendant left leg, his head and torso leaning slightly forward, and the fingers of his right hand touching his cheek. Because of the complex posture, sculptures of the pensive bodhisattva can have slightly awkward proportions (an extremely attenuated torso and right arm, for example). This piece, however, exhibits fluidity and grace.

Several unusual features of this piece are noteworthy. The atypical nine-sided dais on which the bodhisattva sits has an attractive openwork design, which is concealed by the drapery folds in the front but is revealed in the back. This type of openwork dais may derive from rattan stools of Tang China (618–906 A.D.). The bodhisattva's crown is topped with an orb-and-crescent motif, which indicates influence from Central Asia. His braided hair, parted in the middle and falling down his shoulders, has a dramatic linear pattern. The fingers and toes—especially the big toe on the right foot—are extremely pliant and vibrant. The crisp decoration on the garment appears to have been executed after the bronze was gilded.