Buddha Shakyamuni, 13th century
Tibet
Gilt copper alloy and pigments
13 ¼ x 10 ¾ x 7 in.
Representing the Buddha Shakyamuni, this small but exquisite metal sculpture is almost 800 years old and was most likely made using the lost-wax casting method. In Himalayan visual traditions, images contain clues that let the viewer know who or what they are looking at. So, it is particularly interesting for us to compare this 3-dimensional metal object to a larger 2-dimensional rendering of the same figure, installed nearby and to the left.
Both the sculpture and painted depiction feature similar postures, hand gestures (or mudras), and physical characteristics–such as the cranial protuberance (the ushnisha), a tuft of hair between the eyebrows (the urna), and long earlobes–that allow us to identify the figure as a buddha, specifically the Buddha Shakyamuni. The stretched earlobes, in particular, evidence the strain of heavy earrings and serve as a reminder of Shakyamuni’s worldly possessions and royal identity, which he renounced for a life of asceticism. The seated, cross-legged lotus position (associated with meditation), along with the right hand touching the ground in a mudra known as the earth-touching gesture signify a pivotal moment in the Buddha’s life when he called the earth to witness his awakening.

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