Buddha, probably Shakyamuni (Shijiamouni), Sixteen Kingdoms period (304–439), late 4th–early 5th century
Gilt bronze, piece–mold cast; H. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm)
Purchase, Arthur M. Sackler Gift, 1974 (1974.268.8a–c)
Representations of Buddha wearing thick shawls that cover both shoulders and sitting on square thrones with lions at either side illustrate early Chinese adaptations of imagery derived from the northwest region of the Indian subcontinent, particularly centers in present-day Pakistan (known as Gandhara in the ancient world). The Buddha sits with his legs crossed and holds his hands palms up: both posture and gesture derive from Indian artistic traditions and symbolize meditation. The high chignon at the top of the head is intended to cover the ushnisha, a mark of supernal wisdom that is also based on Indian imagery and is one of the hallmarks of the Buddha. The juxtaposition of the curly and straight hair is, however, characteristic of early Chinese representations of Buddhas.
Scientific examination of this sculpture has shown that it was cast using several ceramic molds, a technique that had developed in China to make ritual bronze vessels during the Shang (1600–1050 B.C.) and Zhou (ca. 1046–771 B.C.) dynasties. By the fifth century, the lost-wax method, which may have been introduced with Buddhism, was more often used for the casting of Chinese sculptures.