Period: South and North Kingdoms period (676–935), Unified Silla
Date: 8th century
Medium: Gilt bronze
Dimensions: H. 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)
Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1912
Accession Number: 12.37.136
This small gilt-bronze statue of a standing Buddha is typical of the numerous images made for private devotion during the Unified Silla period, a high point in the production of Buddhist sculpture in Korea. The figure's lowered eyes express a contemplative attitude, and the peaceful countenance a feeling of serenity. The right hand displays the gesture of reassurance (Sanskrit: abhayamudra), while the left hand makes the sign of fulfilling wishes (varadamudra), gestures that indicate that this Buddha is most likely Amitabha, who gained popularity in the Unified Silla period with the rise of Pure Land Buddhism. The enlightened status of the Buddha is indicated by the standard attributes (lakshana) established in India a millennium earlier: the protuberance on the top of the head (ushnisha) demonstrates wisdom, the elongated earlobes represent nobility, and the neck folds symbolize auspiciousness.
Comparisons with other examples of the period suggest that this statue probably originally stood on a lotus-petal base and was backed by a mandorla (aureole). The figure was meant to be seen only from the front, as the back of the head and body is hollowed out, a feature often seen in small gilt-bronze images of the late Unified Silla.
Buddhism, supported by Korea's rulers during the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.–668 A.D.) as part of a program to consolidate the power of their respective states, became the official religion throughout the Korean peninsula under the Unified Silla dynasty. Buddhism was lavishly patronized by the court and aristocracy, and the increasingly close association of Buddhism and the state was marked by the construction of temples and the production of icons at royal expense.