Shakyamuni Buddha

ca. 13th-14th century
Gilded Bronze and Pigment

Ester R. Portnow Collection of Asian Art, a gift of the Nathan Rubin-Ida Ladd Family Foundation

This gilded bronze statue from Tibet represents Buddha Shakyamuni, the “Great One of the Sakya clan,” seated on a throne of lotus petals at the moment of his awakening. His left hand rests in his lap in a posture of meditation; his right touches the earth lightly, asking it to witness his enlightenment.
Other bodily markings, or lakshanas, also convey the Buddha’s enlightenment. He wears the robes of an ascetic, but his stretched earlobes recall the heavy earrings he would have worn as a young prince and his rejection of such material wealth. The bump emerging from the top of his head, called the ushnisha, conveys wisdom.
An unusual teardrop shaped turquoise inlay depicts the urna, a swirling hair between the Buddha’s eyes, which represents understanding. The eyes, half closed, look both inward, in contemplation, and outward, engaged in the world around him. His smiling face and golden complexion suggest compassion for all beings. Small spheres on the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet represent the wheels of Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha.
This Shakyamuni Buddha is simultaneously energetic and peaceful, weightless yet grounded. Faithful viewers would see both an exemplar of the path to enlightenment and the promise of their own potential.