Tibet, Maitreya – buddha of the future (3)

15th century, Central Tibet, Tsang atelier, copper alloy, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

15th century, Central Tibet, Tsang atelier, copper alloy, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

This sculpture was labelled ‘Shakyamuni, Western Tibet, Yongle period’ by the Cleveland Museum of Art, it has also been labelled ‘Maitreya, Central Tibet’ on the Himalayan Art Resources website. Both the historical buddha and Maitreya (when depicted as the buddha-to-be), can be seated in the vajra position with their hands doing the dharmacakra mudra.

15th c., Central Tibet, Tsang atelier, Maitreya, c.a., detail, private on HAR

However, this buddha has a lotus incised on the palm of his hands and the sole of his feet, as Maitreya occasionally does, whereas Shakyamuni would have a dharma wheel (dharmacakra).

15th c., Central Tibet, Tsang atelier, Maitreya, c.a., close up, private on HAR

The double-lotus base on which he is seated is indeed typical of the Yongle period in China and was adopted by Tibetan artists at the time but not in Western Tibet, where the base had plump apple-like petals. Besides, his eyes are inlaid with silver and the hem of his robe is richly incised with a foliate pattern, two features which point to the Central Tibet, famous for its ateliers in the Tsang region.

It is worth noting that, rather than the standard conical shape, his chignon forms a prominent ball on top of his head. It is topped with a small lotus bud finial.

15th century or earlier, Tibet, Maitreya, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Christie's.

15th century or earlier, Tibet, Maitreya, gilt copper alloy, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

This Maitreya is seated on a throne, both legs pendant, his feet resting on a large lotus flower, his robe covering one shoulder. His right hand does the abhaya mudra, the other holds a water pot which is different to the standard kundika and recalls the more archaic Gandharan pot of water. The edge of his garment is incised with a geometrical pattern. He has a Nepalese-style oval face and low chignon.

16th century, Tibet, Maitreya, gilt metal and pigments, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

16th century, Tibet, Maitreya, gilt metal and pigments, private collection, published on Himalayan Art Resources.

The above is seated on a throne covered with a cloth, his feet resting on a roughly shaped lotus flower with incised rather than sculpted petals. He is wrapped in a robe (sanghati) that covers both shoulders and reaches to his shins (over his ankle-length dhoti), the front panel delicately arranged like a flower over his lap. He has a squarish face with gentle Tibetan facial features and individually sculpted hair locks, the chignon topped with a lotus bud. His legs and feet are under-developped, giving full protagonism to the upper part of the body and the face.

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