Gilt bronze; H. 8 1/2 in. (21.5 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2006 (2006.284)
The distinctive gesture of the right fist enclosing the index finger of the left hand identifies this figure seated in a meditative pose on a lush tiered pedestal as Vairochana, a celestial Buddha important in Asia from the eighth to the twelfth century. Buddha Vairochana uses this gesture, known as the wisdom fist, when he is in the center of a mandala or cosmic diagram, and this sculpture may once have been part of such a larger assemblage. The small seated Buddha in the extraordinary crown is unusual; Vairochana is more commonly shown with representations of the heads of the five Buddha families in his headdress.
Buddha Vairochana wears an undergarment, a long surplice, and a necklace. The detail and precision in the rendering of the clothing and jewelry place this figure among the finest sculptures produced in China during the rule of the Qidan Liao dynasty (9071125), a Mongol people from Manchuria who controlled northern China from the tenth to the twelfth century. It can be grouped with a handful of elegantly cast pieces produced in the first decades of the eleventh century, during the reign of Shengzong (9821031).