Chinese / Pair of Bodhisattvas in the Pensive Pose / Northern Qi period, dated 570Chinese
Pair of Bodhisattvas in the Pensive Pose
Northern Qi period, dated 570

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Name-CRT: Chinese
Title: Pair of Bodhisattvas in the Pensive Pose
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 570
Creation End Date: 570
Creation Date: Northern Qi period, dated 570
Creation Place: China, Hebei Province
Object Type: Sculpture
Classification Term: Reliefs
Materials and Techniques: marble
Dimensions: H. 24 1/2 in. (62.2 cm); W. 14 7/8 in. (37.8 cm)
AMICA Contributor: Asia Society
Owner Location: New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 1992.004
Credit Line: Asia Society: Estate of Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller
Context: The development of paradise cults and imagery is a hallmark of East Asian Buddhism, and much of the iconography of this type can be traced to the images that evolved in China beginning in the 6th century. During this time, the desire for rebirth in a Buddhist pure land, generally either the Tushita Pure Land of the Bodhisattva Maitreya or the Western Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha, became a prominent feature of Chinese Buddhist thought. The iconography of two bodhisattvas in this white marble sculpture dated by an inscription to 570 presents some of the complexities that mark the development of pure land imagery in China. The two central bodhisattvas are seated in what is generally known in Western scholarship as the 'pensive pose,' in which one leg is crossed over the other and the forefinger of one hand is raised as if to gently touch the cheek in a thoughtful gesture. This pose has often been said to identify the Bodhisattva Maitreya seated in his Tushita Pure Land awaiting his rebirth on earth as the Buddha of the Future. However, the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara is often depicted in the same pose in images from India and Kashmir. In fact, several figures in this pose recently excavated in China have been variously identified as Maitreya, Avalokiteshvara, or more generally as bodhisattvas or pensive figures. This uncertainty suggests that images of this type can best be understood as representations of bodhisattvas seated in a paradise, probably the Tushita Pure Land. The belief that every bodhisattva inhabits the Tushita Pure Land before his final rebirth on earth is found in several texts that were influential in early Chinese Buddhist thought, for instance, the Dashabhumika Sutra.

The images at the top of this relief can also be understood as early examples of pure land imagery. The pagodalike building being carried aloft by dragons and heavenly beings may represent the ascent of a deceased person's soul to a pure land for rebirth. The presence of the standing bodhisattvas accompanied by monks presage the numerous images of buddhas (particularly Amitabha) and their attendants descending to earth. Such images are common themes in Pure Land Buddhism and several other East Asian sects. Finally, the two small figures with clasped hands seated onlotuses prefigure the use of such images to represent souls reborn in Amitabha's Western Pure Land in the art of China, Korea, and Japan.

The clothing worn by the seated bodhisattvas and their broad shoulders, elegant torsos, and long legs are typical of sculptures made in northeast China during the second half of the Northern Qi period (550-577). The ultimate prototypes for such lean physiques can be found in the art of Gupta-period India (c. 320-c. 500), and it is possible that this style enteredChina through a Central Asian intermediary.

Related Document Description: Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 112.
AMICA ID: ASIA.1992.004
AMICA Library Year: 1999
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, Asia Society

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