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Merchants trading in Silk Road goods, South and Central Asian Buddhist proselytizers, and pilgrims who had traveled to India to study Buddhism at its source brought countless paintings, scriptures, and small bronze sculptures to China and Tibet. These later served as the inspirations for works commissioned by local patrons. Few early Chinese and Tibetan bronze sculptures, and even fewer Indian prototypes, survive, as later generations melted them down to make coins, weapons, or new icons. The fine statues on display here may have been objects of devotion that were set in portable shrines, like the Korean example in the case to the right, for worship in lay people’s homes.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Standing Buddha Shakyamuni in Varada-mudra
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Tucci Buddi Lichiuvi
Work Type
Probably 8th - 10th century
Creation Place: South Asia, Nepal
Licchavi (5th-9th century) to Thakuri (9th-12th century) dynasty
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1610, Buddhist Sculpture, Buddhism and Early East Asian Buddhist Art
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Physical Descriptions
Gilt bronze; copper alloy with traces of mercury amalgam gilding, cold gilding, and, black pigment, perhaps lacquer, in the hair
H. 26.5 x W. 12 x D. 9.8 cm (10 7/16 x 4 3/4 x 3 7/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: No marks or inscriptions that are original to the piece itself.
Ngor Monastery, gTsan district, Tibet (by 1960's). [Kalimpong Art House], Bombay, India (1960's - July, 1967), sold; to [William H. Wolff], New York (July, 1967-June, 1968), sold; to Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, New York (June, 1968 - c. 1975), sold; to William H. Wolff, New York (c. 1975 - 1980), gift; to Ann L. ("Allison") Gray, New York (1980 - 2002), sold; to Private Collection (2002 - 2011), partial gift and partially sold; to Harvard Art Museums, 2011.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial gift of an anonymous donor and partial purchase through the generosity of Alan J. and Suzanne W. Dworsky, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, David M. Leventhal, Christina Marcove, Alan L. and Jacqueline B. Stuart, and the Ralph C. Marcove International Understanding Through Arts and Crafts Foundation, Inc.; through the bequest of William S. Lieberman, by exchange; through the gift of Langdon Warner and H. H. F. Jayne, by exchange; and through the Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane Fund for the Acquisition of Oriental Art, the Eric Schroeder Fund, the Louise Haskell Daly Fund, and The Alpheus Hyatt Purchasing Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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This sculpture depicts a Buddha gracefully standing on a shallow lotus pedestal, the Buddha likely the Buddha Sakyamuni (the Historical Buddha) though possibly the Buddha Dipankara (the Buddha of the Past). The Buddha extends his proper right hand downward, palm out, in the "varadamudra", or boon-giving gesture (sometimes also termed the gesture of munificence); he raises his left hand to shoulder height, where grasps the edge of his garment. The Buddha stands in a graceful S-curve, his right leg bearing the weight of his body, his left leg subtly flexed, the foot extended delicately forward. The features are low-set on the oval face: the forehead is high and broad; the eyes large, wide-set, and half closed; the nose and mouth small; the lips full and sensuous; and the chin dainty and rounded. Rising prominently from the crown of the head, the "ushnisha" is tall, relatively narrow, and rounded on its top. Small, snail-shell curls of hair cover the Buddha's head, the stylized curls cast as small bumps, or hemispherical beads, rather than as detailed rings of hair. Three registers of curls cover the "ushnisha", with a single curl (or possibly a jewel?) at the very top. Apart from the "ushnisha", the only other "dvatrimsadvara-laksana"--i.e., the thirty two supranormal signs that mark a "superman" ("mahapurusa") and that are the distinguishing iconographic characteristics of the Buddha--that appear on this image are the elongated earlobes, though it is possible that the fingers and toes are to be read as webbed, as they are so described in canonical texts. Three intaglio rings encircle the neck, creating the fleshy folds that frequently also are described in canonical texts. The Buddha wears an inner robe, or "antarvasa", which covers the lower body; wrapped around the waist, it hangs to the ankles, where it is visible between the Buddha's legs. He also wears a "samghati", or outer robe, which is draped, cape-like, over both shoulders; it flares out on either side of the Buddha's lower body as if animated by a breeze or by the Buddha's movements, and it terminates a little above the ankles, its lower edge appearing slightly above that of the "antarvasa". The two nearly diaphanous garments cling tightly to the Buddha's body, revealing its form and structure. The cape- or toga-like "samghati" gathers in several overlapping rings at the neck, suggesting a collar; the folds of the "samghati" fall elegantly over the body in a series of eight, elongated, descending parabolic arcs. The expanses of drapery that hang from the arms and flare outward on either side of the legs terminate in rippling folds that contrast with the austere areas of taut drapery that cover the body. Elliptical in form, the lotus base on which the Buddha stands is flat-topped; its indented, or waisted, sides divide the base into a shorter upper tier and a taller lower tier. Two rows of overlapping, rising lotus petals appear on the upper tier; three rows of overlapping, descending lotus petals appear on the lower tier, the outermost row not only wider than the others but cast with decorative embellishments. The lotus petal-décor extends around the entire base, which thus is fully decorated all round; by contrast, the back of the sculpture is plain and without representational details, except for the back of the head, which is rounded and covered with small, snail-shell curls of hair. Around its periphery, the sculpture's edges are lightly rounded at the shoulders and down the sides. Thick black pigment, possibly lacquer, appears in the hair and over the "ushnisha". The Buddha lacks a cast "urna"--the so-called third eye, which, according to canonical texts, actually is a tuft of hair, rather than a third eye--though one likely was painted there with cold pigments during at least part of the sculpture's history. Traces of mercury gilding appear on the face, body, drapery, and base. The sculpture originally was fully gilded, save the back. Except for the loss of gilding and except for small nicks and minor scratches here and there, the sculpture is generally in excellent condition. Numerous small, pinprick hollows depressions appear on the back; these are casting flaws, rather than later damage or other changes to the condition of the piece over the centuries; in fact, they are interesting because they indicate that the sculpture likely was cast horizontally, with the face and front of the body facing downward-rather than upside down, with the head at the bottom and the feet at the top-precisely so that such casting flaws would appear on the back rather than anyplace on the front of the image. Although the base is hollow, the Buddha is solid cast. The small hole that appears in the center of its back wall likely was punched into the lotus base at some time after the piece was cast, perhaps for use in securing the sculpture to an altar (or to a larger and perhaps more elaborate base.) In the picture published in Giuseppe Tucci's Tibetan Painted Scrolls (vol. 1, p. 206, fig. 85), this sculpture shows more cold gilding on the face than it now displays; the cold gilding probably was removed by a dealer or collector during the second half of the twentieth century in order to reveal the traces of original mercury gilding. In fact, the cold gilding on the face was not original to the piece, but likely was applied in successive applications over the centuries while the piece was under worship in Tibet.

The typed legend on an aged, yellowed, paper label affixed to the underside of the sculpture's base identifies the image as "Shakyamuni" and attributes the sculpture to Nepal; the label includes the number "#68-12", which indicates that it was the twelfth work of Asian art that Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd acquired in 1968. As I was the first curator of the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection at The Asia Society, New York (1980-1986), I am very familiar with such Rockefeller-Collection labels and thus can attest that this indeed is a Rockefeller- Collection label. The white, pressure-sensitive label with legend reading "Property of ANN L. Gray" in blue ink in a Germanic hand was handwritten with ball-point pen by William H. Wolff, who affixed it to the sculpture's base, over the Rockefeller-Collection label, in 1980, at the time he gave the sculpture to Ann L. Gray.

It is likely that this sculpture was in Tibet during most of its history. We cannot know when the sculpture was imported from Nepal into Tibet. However, there were close links between Nepal and the gTsan district of Tibet from early times, so that it possible that the sculpture ended up in Tibet shortly after it was cast. In any event, the sculpture must have been in Tibet for many centuries, remaining there until it left Tibet for India in the 1950s or 1960s.

The body of the Buddha displays a subtle elegance and plasticity that has an overt sensuous appeal. The outline is crisp and faultless, and a sense of movement is expressed by both the relaxed posture and the rippling edges of the garment. Classical features persist--the aquiline nose, the half-closed eyes, and the full lips--reflecting the distant influence of ancient Graeco-Roman sculpture through the Gandharan lineage. (Pal, Nepal: Where the Gods Are Young, pp. 60-71, no. 2) Based on Indian sculptures of the Gupta period (320-600), this image elegantly combines the stylistic traits of Buddha images from Mathura with those from Sarnath (both cities in Uttar Pradesh). These two cities were important artistic centers in Gupta India, and they have given us some of the finest Buddha images ever created in stone. Despite their prodigious lithic output, however, neither Mathura nor Sarnath produced any known Gupta-period bronze images of the Buddha. (Pal, Light of Asia, p. 201, no. 85.)

The treatment of this Buddha's garment, with its prominently indicated folds, follows the Mathura mode. However, in its essential characteristics--the garment's transparency, the slim elegance of the body, and the facial features--the figure is more typical of Sarnath than Mathura. (Pal, Light of Asia, p. 201, no. 85.)

The closest Indian model for this bronze sculpture likely is a brass image of Standing Buddha Sakyamuni in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:

Pratapaditya Pal et al., Light of Asia: Buddha Sakyamuni in Asian Art, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984), p. 101, cat. no. 85.

The two most closely related Nepalese sculptures are in the collection of the British Museum, London: a Standing Buddha Sakyamuni whose hands are in the same position as this image and which the British Museum curators date to the ninth-tenth century (1969.4-19.1), and a Seated Maitreya Buddha whose hands are in dharmacakra-mudra and which the British Museum curators date to the tenth century (1969.7-13.1). Both sculptures are pictured in

Chandra L. Reedy, Himalayan Bronzes: Technology, Style, and Choices (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, and London: Associated University Press, 1997), p. 225, fig. N233 (1969.4-19.1), and p. 227, fig. N238 (1969.7-13.1).

The Standing Buddha Sakyamuni (British Museum, 1969.4-19.1) is also published in

Pratapaditya Pal, The Arts of Nepal, Part 1 (Sculpture), (Leiden and Köln: E.J. Brill, 1974), pl. 173 (dates the sculpture to the 9th-10th century).
Exhibition History

Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 06/01/2013

32Q: 1610 Buddhist Art I, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

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This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at