A Bodhisattva is one who has achieved enlightenment but who chooses to stay on this earth to bring salvation to suffering mankind. Bodhisattvas, usually bejewelled, are seen alone, or flanking a Buddha figure.
This figure stands in the classic 'tribhanga' (triple bend) pose, the upper front part of his body naked except for the scarf and jewels around his neck, the lower half covered by a dhoti that clings to the thighs in concentric ridges. The right hand holds part of his scarf while the left, raised, is broken at the wrist. Like many of these figures, this one has not survived intact, and his head and feet are also missing. A distinctive feature of this Bodhisattva is the carved curls of hair on the shoulders. While the naturalism of this figure is derived from Indian influences, never in Chinese sculpture does one see anything of the unbridled sensuality typical of much Indian sculpture. With both the Buddhist writings and images, the Chinese interpreted them in their own cultural terms. (When Buddhism first came to China and was being translated into terms the Chinese could understand, the key Daoist term 'dao', "the Way", was sometimes used to render the Buddhist term 'dharma', "the teaching" [A. F. Wright, 'Buddhism in Chinese History', Stanford University Press, 1959. p36]).
For the first 200 years of the Tang dynasty Buddhism flourished as never before. It was imperial policy to patronize Buddhist establishments and clergy and to build and support temples in the capital and provinces. Buddhist temples and monasteries were tax-exempt and soon acquired great wealth. Buddhist ritual was an integral part of state and imperial observances. Most of the larger pieces that survive from this period are in stone or clay, wood having been destroyed in time and bronze figures melted down. The rebellion of An Lushan from 755-763 weakened the Tang Empire. The suppression of Buddhism between 842 and 845 brought empire-wide destruction of temples, and icons. This destruction, together with the increasing influence of the Chan (Zen) sect which paid little attention to statuary, and the revival of Confucianism, marked the end of Buddhism's influence among the literate.
Jackie Menzies, 'Early Chinese Art', AGNSW, 1983. cat. no. XXVII.
Place where the work was made
Tang dynasty 618 - 907 → China
109.0 x 48.0 x 29.5 cm
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased with the assistance of the Sydney Cooper Bequest Fund and Rene Rivkin 1982
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Ancient Chinese Sculpture, Eskenazi, London, 11 Dec 1981–24 Dec 1981
Early Chinese art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Feb 1983–08 May 1983
Buddhist Art from the Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 May 1995–10 Sep 1995
Referenced in 3 publications
Jackie Menzies, Early Chinese Art, Sydney, 1983, (illus.) not paginated. cat.no. XXVII. See 'Further Information' for text.
Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, China 'Buddhist Art', Sydney, 2003, 94 (colour illus.).
LIU Yang, Orientations, 'The Discovery of Mass: A Footnote to the Stylistic and Iconographic Innovation in Chinese Buddhist Sculpture', pg. 88-95, Hong Kong, Sep 2000, 93 (colour illus.). fig.4