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Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Leidy, Denise Patry, and Donna Strahan
256 pages
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The Metropolitan Museum's collection of Chinese Buddhist and Daoist sculpture is the largest in the western world. In this lavish, comprehensive volume, archaeological discoveries and scientific testing and analysis serve as the basis for a reassessment of 120 works ranging in date from the fourth to the twentieth century, many of them previously unpublished and all of them newly and beautifully photographed. An introductory essay provides an indispensable overview of Buddhist practices and iconography—acquainting us with the panoply of past, present, and future Buddhas, bodhisattvas, monks and arhats, guardians and adepts, pilgrims and immortals—and explores the fascinating dialogue between Indian and Chinese culture that underlies the transmission of Buddhism into China.

In addition to detailed individual discussions of fifty masterpieces—a heterogeneous group including portable shrines carved in wood, elegant bronze icons, monumental stone representations, colorful glazed-ceramic figures, and more—the catalogue presents a ground-breaking survey of the methods used in crafting the sculptures. A second introductory essay and several technical appendices address the question of how early Chinese bronzes, as opposed to those from Gandhara and other westerly regions, were cast; the construction methods used for wood sculptures in China, notably different from those used in Japan; the complex layers of color and gilding on works in all media and their possible significance; and the role of consecratory deposits in wood and metal sculptures. A final appendix publishes the results of an intensive analysis of the wood material in the collection, classifying every sculpture by the genus of its wood and including a section of photomicrographs of each wood sample—an invaluable resource for researchers continuing to study works of this genre.

As illuminating for new enthusiasts of Chinese Buddhist art as for scholars and connoisseurs, Wisdom Embodied is a glorious tour of the Metropolitan's unparalleled collection, certain to ear its place as a classic in the field.

Met Art in Publication

Funerary Urn (Hunping), Stoneware with olive green glaze (Yue ware), China
Standing Buddha Offering Protection, Red sandstone, India (Uttar Pradesh, Mathura)
late 5th century
Seated Buddha, Brass inlaid with copper and silver, India (Kashmir region)
7th–8th century
Bodhisattva Guanyin, Leaded brass, China
15th–16th century
Seated luohan holding a rosary, Stoneware with pigment, China
17th–18th century
Seated Buddha, Bronze with traces of gold leaf, Pakistan (ancient region of Gandhara)
1st to mid-2nd century
Seated Buddha, probably Shakyamuni (Shijiamouni), Gilt bronze; piece-mold cast, China
late 4th–early 5th century
Buddha with radiate halo and mandorla, Juniper wood with traces of color and gold, China (Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Turfan area)
5th–6th century
Bodhisattva (Maitreya) with crossed ankles, Sandstone with traces of pigment, China
ca. 470–80
Bodhisattva (Maitreya) with crossed ankles, Sandstone with traces of pigment, China
ca. 480–90
Buddha Maitreya (Mile), Gilt bronze with traces of pigment; piece-mold cast, China
dated 486 (10th year of Taihe reign)
Buddha Dipankara (Dingguang), Sandstone with traces of pigment, China
dated 495 (19 (?) year of Taihe reign)
Emperor Xiaowen and his entourage worshipping the Buddha, Limestone with traces of pigment, China
ca. 522–23
Buddha Maitreya (Mile) Altarpiece, Gilt bronze, China
dated 524 (5th year of Zhengguang reign)
Buddha Maitreya (Mile) altarpiece, Gilt bronze, China
undated,ca. 525–30
Stele commissioned by members of a devotional society, Limestone with traces of pigment, China
dated 528
Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), Sandstone with pigment, China
ca. 550–560
Right hand of Buddha, Limestone with pigment and gilding, China (Northern Xiangtangshan, North Cave)
ca. 550–560
Head of a bodhisattva, Limestone with pigment, China
ca. 565–75
Head of an attendant bodhisattva, Limestone with pigment, China
ca. 565–75
Showing 20 of 124

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Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.), Denise Patry Leidy, Donna K. Strahan, and Lawrence Becker, eds. 2010. Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York : New Haven [Conn.]: Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Yale University Press.