This is the largest early gilt-bronze Chinese sculpture known today. The Buddha’s broad shoulders, powerful physique, and long legs derive from fifthcentury Indian prototypes that spread to China along the Silk Road, an example of which can be seen directly behind you in the gallery for Indian art.
Maitreya is worshiped both as a bodhisattva and as a Buddha, for it is believed that once the currentcosmic 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 dedicatory inscription at the back of the base, which dates the sculpture to 486 and states that it was commissioned in honor of the dowager empress Wenming (442–490), who controlled the Northern Wei dynasty during the last three decades of the fifth century.
Inscription: Inscribed and dated (in back, on upper band).
Tai he shi nian / zheng yue nian si ri / wei tai huang / tai hou (space) / xia wei (shi?) / di zhong sheng / zao mi li / xiang yi qu (This can be loosely translated as in the 10th year of the Taihe era (486), the first month the 24th day in honor of the Dowager Empress, for the benefit of the ten classes of beings, one image of Mile (Maitreya) was made.