Buddha Maitreya (Mile)

Period: Northern Wei dynasty (386–534)

Date: dated 524

Culture: China

Medium: Gilt bronze

Dimensions: H. 30 1/4 (76.8 cm); W. 16 in. (40.6 cm); D. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm)

Classification: Sculpture

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1938

Accession Number: 38.158.1a–n


The attenuated physique and heavy, concealing clothing worn by the Buddha in the center of this sculpture typify art produced in the early sixth century, particularly in the vicinity of the Northern Wei capital at Luoyang, in Henan Province. A badly abraded inscription incised on the back of the base identifies the central figure as Buddha Maitreya, gives the date, and indicates that a certain Gaizhi commissioned the sculpture on behalf of his deceased son. The inscription also expresses the hope that the son and other relatives will eventually be united in the presence of the Buddha. Maitreya is the only divinity in Buddhism revered as both a bodhisattva and a Buddha. Devotion to Maitreya and the desire for rebirth in his Pure Land, known as the Tushita (Contented) Heaven, were widespread in the late fifth and sixth centuries. Rebirth in a Pure Land offered an escape from the harsh realities of daily life while one awaited another, presumably easier, reincarnation. This complex assembly, complete with encircling celestial musicians and a flaming halo, depicts Buddha Maitreya as he descends to earth to rescue the devout.