Detail View: The AMICA Library: Bodhisattva

AMICA Library Year: 
Object Type: 
Creator Nationality: 
Asian; Indian Sub-Continent; Sri Lankan
Creator Name-CRT: 
Sri Lankan
Full view
Creation Date: 
7th-8th century
Creation Start Date: 
Creation End Date: 
Materials and Techniques: 
Copper alloy
Creation Place: 
Sri Lanka
H. 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm)
AMICA Contributor: 
Asia Society
Owner Location: 
New York, New York, USA
ID Number: 
Credit Line: 
Asia Society: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
The dating of early sculptures from Sri Lanka remains problematic and only two broad stylistic categories exist. Earlier sculptures are classified as Anuradhapura style, named after the city that was the capital from the 2nd through 10th centuries. Later works are categorized as Polonnaruwa style, also named for the location of the capital (993-1235), which was moved after Sri Lanka was attacked by the powerful Chola empire of southern India. This sculpture, representing an unidentified four-armed bodhisattva, shows some of the stylistic and iconographic variation in Anuradhapura-style sculptures and suggests that there were complex interrelationships between the many regional styles and iconographic usages in South and Southeast Asian Buddhist art during this period. This bodhisattva belongs to a group of images generally dated to the 7th and 8th centuries. His relatively rigid pose, long waist and short legs, full features, the shape of his head, and the manner in which his hair is pulled up to form a bundle at the top of his head are characteristics often found in one of the most prominent types of early Sri Lankan sculpture.

This sculpture presents a distinctively Sri Lankan version of the ascetic-bodhisattva found in art beyond the Indian mainland from the 7th through 9th centuries. The bodhisattva wears a long skirtlike garment, around which is wrapped an animal skin, probably that of a tiger. The spouted bottle (kundika) that he carries, his long matted hair, his relative lack of jewelry, and the animal skin indicate his asceticism. The importance awarded to ascetic bodhisattvas in Indian art from the 4th through 6th centuries illustrate changes in Buddhist thought during that period, and their appearance slightly later in Sri Lanka, Java, Thailand, and Cambodia reflect the spread of these new religious tenets outside of India.

The spouted bottled is an attribute of both Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya, the two most important and widely revered bodhisattvas, and it is likely that this sculpture was intended to represent one of them. However, Avalokiteshvara generally has a seated buddha in his headdress and Maitreya a stupa in his: the lack of either symbol hinders the positive identification of this bodhisattva.

Related Document Description: 
Asia Society. Handbook of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection. New York: Asia Society, [1981], p. 22.
Related Document Description: 
Chutiwongs, Nandana. 'Sri Lanka and Some Bodhisattva Images from Southeast Asia.' In Studies in South and Southeast Asian Archaeology, ed. H.I.R. Hinzler. Leiden: Institute of South Asian Archaeology, University of Leiden, 1986, pp. 70-72, 80.
Related Document Description: 
Chutiwongs, Nandana, and Denise Patry Leidy. Buddha of the Future: An Early Maitreya from Thailand. New York: Asia Society Galleries, distributed by University of Washington Press, 1994, p. 50.
Related Document Description: 
Woodward, Hiram W., Jr. 'Interrelations in a Group of South-East Asian Sculptures.' Apollo (November 1983), p. 381.
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