A bronze votive figure of Buddha, China, 22nd  year of the Taihe reign (498), Northern Wei Dynasty, Height: 8 3/4  in. (22.2 cm). Photo: Sotheby's.

PROVENANCE: Private Japanese collection, early 20th century

EXPOSITIONA Special Exhibition of Bronze Buddha: Essence of East Asian Buddhist Art, SEN-0KU HAKUKOKAN, Spring, 2004

LITERATURE: / T. Kiyoshi, "Seated bronze Buddha figures of the Taihe period, Northern Wei —Focusing on Two New Examples”, Bulletin of Sen-oku hakkokan 22,  2006, pp. 68-74.

S. Jin, Haiwai ji gangtao cang lidai foxiang zhengpin jinian tujian, Taiyuan, 2007, p. 426

NOTE: The production of Buddhist images, in particular small portable figures, proliferated during the Taihe reign (477-499) of the Northern Wei dynasty. In his seminal paper ‘Several problems concerning the bronze Buddhist images of the Taihe era of Northern Wei’, Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, pp. 18, Saburo Matsubara lists twenty dated examples, ranging from the 1st (477) to the 21st year (497) of the reign, and analyzes the form, content and the donors responsible for this group of images. It clearly shows that Hebei province remained the leading production center for Buddhist bronze figures, continuing its dominance from the previous century. Bronzes from this region can be referred to as the Hebei School. At the same time, Shandong province emerged as another major center for the production of bronze statues. Artisans from both places excelled in their casting technology and achieved very high aesthetic standards. Bronze figures were usually well made with elaborate surface decoration, and an increasing number of Buddhist divinities, such as Shakyamuni, Maitreya, and Avalokiteshvara are portrayed. 

The present example depicts Shakyamuni Buddha Preaching the Law. He is seated indhyanasana, with his right hand raised in abhayamudra, symbolizing his protection and blessing, while his left hand grasps the edge of his robe. Two lions sit at the base of the waisted pedestal which represents Mount Sumeru.  The lions represent Buddha’s clan, the Shakyas.  The figure and pedestal are supported on a rectangular flared four-legged pedestal. Beneath the encrustation, the pedestal is decorated with fine floral patterns, and a long inscription is incised on three of the four sides.  The inscription reads ‘on the … day, seventh month of the twenty-second year of Taihe (corresponding to 498), Daoxing … his father and mother made this Shakyamuni image with the hope that the father, mother and all other relatives can be in the presence of Buddha and listen to the Dharma.'

The inscription follows the conventional formula of Buddhist dedications, and gives the exact date, indicating that such portable images were used during Buddhist preaching of the dharma.  Together with the other few surviving examples from the Taihe reign, this present bronze Buddha figure displays a high achievement in craftsmanship and adds to our knowledge of the religious practices of the period.

Sotheby's. Footsteps of the Buddha: Masterworks from Across the Buddhist World. New York | 03 sept. 2013 - http://www.sothebys.com