Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information




Asian art

View More:



8th century


Unknown Artist


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.


Other Title

Standing Bodhisattva

Place where the work was made



Tang dynasty 618 - 907 → China


8th century

Media category


Materials used



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

Accession number



Where the work was made

Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history


Francis Briest, Mar 1980, Paris/France, published in auction catalogue of Francis Briest, 'Extrême-Orient- Tableaux Anciens Bijoux-Argenterie', Paris, March 1980, lot 45.

Eskenazi Ltd Oriental Art, Dec 1981-Sep 1982, London/England, purchased by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Sep 1982.

Referenced in 5 publications


Jackie Menzies, Early Chinese Art, Sydney, 1983, (illus.) not paginated. XXVII.

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

Ancient Chinese Sculpture, London, 1981, cover(colour illus.). cat no.11

Extrême-Orient- Tableaux Anciens Bijoux-Argenterie, Paris, Mar 1980, cover, 7 (colour illus). cat no 45.