Buddha Shakyamuni or Akshobhya, the Buddha of the East

Date: 11th–12th century

Culture: Tibet

Medium: Gilt copper

Dimensions: H. 22 3/4 in. (58 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Purchase, Rogers Fund and Florence and Herbert Irving Gift, 1995

Accession Number: 1995.106


The robust body of this early Tibetan Buddha seems to derive from the art of the North Indian post-Gupta period (seventh to eighth century), while its physiognomy is based on Central Asian prototypes of similar date. Few works of art from tenth-century Tibet have survived, but what does remain seems to be an eclectic synthesis of elements drawn from the artistic traditions of Central Asia, India, Nepal, and China.

The identification of the statue is difficult. The earth-touching gesture (bhumisparshamudra), a variant of which our Buddha makes with his right hand, is most frequently associated with Shakyamuni, the Historic Buddha. It alludes to his victory over the evil demon Mara, who sought to disturb his meditation, and therefore his enlightenment. The same gesture is also associated with Akshobhya, one of the five great cosmic Buddhas central to the iconography of early Tibetan Buddhism. The position of the Buddha's other hand, with his thumb and middle finger pressed together in an unusual gesture is not associated with the Historic Buddha and seems to support the identification of the sculpture as Akshobhya.