China, Middle Tang Dynasty / Bodhisattva / c. 750-850China, Middle Tang Dynasty
c. 750-850

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Dates/Places: China
Creator Active Place: China
Creator Name-CRT: China, Middle Tang Dynasty
Title: Bodhisattva
Title Type: Primary
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 750
Creation End Date: 850
Creation Date: c. 750-850
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: hollow lacquer with traces of pigment and cut gold
Dimensions: Overall: 44cm
AMICA Contributor: The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 1983.86
Credit Line: Given in memory of Howard Parmelee Eells, Jr. by his wife, Adele Chisholm Eells
Context: This informal yet supernaturally serene sculpture depicts a bejeweled bodhisattva, an enlightened Buddhist being who has postponed his own passage to Nirvana to help others achieve enlightenment. Originally, it would have flanked a Buddha image on the altar of a temple like the one at Huayansi, near Datong, in Shaanxi Province. Dressed in the Indian fashion that was popular in Chinese religious sculpture of the time, the figure wears a simple upper garment draped over one shoulder and a lower skirt belted at the waist. This thin clingy covering does not obscure the sensuous body beneath but, instead, accentuates its physical features, which are arranged in a gentle swaying pose. The somewhat withdrawn, ethereal effect of the image is enhanced by partially closed eyes directed downward in an attitude of profound thought. Alluring and totally absorbing, the image radiates the quiet assurance of enduring faith. The true beauty of this image was concealed when it entered the collection. Clumsy repairs and coats of later painting had to be removed before its original appearance was revealed. This smooth, almost liquid surface, a reflective black lacquer, is not simply a decorative veneer but actually represents the medium in which the sculpture was built. A rare surviving example of a technique that was popular among Tang Buddhist sculptors, the image was constructed by draping lacquered hemp-- now visible in areas where the outer skin is damaged--over an underlying structure made of clay or wood. After it was dry and hard, the cloth was, in turn, covered with countless additional layers of black lacquer. Physical features and garment folds were subsequently cut into this surface, and additional elements such as the lacy armlets and bracelets were molded in lacquer. Finally, pigment and cut gold were applied to accentuate details of the form, and the figure was fitted with the metal or gilded wood crown befitting a bodhisattva. Upon completion, the inner supports were removed, yielding an extremely light hollow image. While the lacquer surface is tough and impervious to insects, such hollow pieces are not nearly as durable as wooden or stone works, which explains why so few examples survive from early times. Despite the dissimilarities of media, comparisons to works in wood and stone facilitate the dating of this beautiful lacquer sculpture to the late eighth or early ninth century. K.W.
AMICA ID: CMA_.1983.86
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, The Cleveland Museum of Art

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