The Standing Buddha statue, held in the MET museum as a gift from Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation in 1993, is one of many renditions of the Buddha (MET). The Buddha is a human man who experienced enlightenment and spread the message through sermons and travel for years (Richie). This figure is the originator of the Buddhist religion, and his sculptures have a long history and significance to spiritual practice that continues into today.
The statue is bronze with silver inlay at a height of 50.5 cm (MET). It appears green in the picture. This posturing of the Buddha is one of many traditional depiction, with him standing face forward and without any sense of movement (Kossak). His face is angled downwards, with eyes closed and a small smile. Due to the shape of his chin and curve of the hair, a heart shaped face is created. The eyes are big, the nose is long, and in general the head is significantly disproportionately large compared to the rest of his body.
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The hair is the most detailed piece. The discrepancy in texture stands out immediately to the eye as the small circular bulbs look crisp in comparison to the softness of the rest of the sculpture (Kossak). He has wide shoulders and hips, his body being portrayed as somewhat hidden by a transparent cloth that extends to his ankles in a triangular shape, similar to how we would depict dresses in drawings now. He is not entirely humanistic since liberties taken in proportions, but overall presents as a relatable human figure to the viewer.
The buddha is typically depicted in simplistic, meditative positions. Commonly, either standing or sitting. The seated version has just initiated meditation, or just achieved enlightenment. This is the most popular way to show buddha, because “achievement of Nirvana was attained while seated” (Richie). However, the standing buddha can still similar meditative concept, or it can symbolize the Buddha as a teacher.
In this particular sculpture, he is in a stance we can assume is Abhaya Mudra, or similar to it. There are several Mudras, which are names of hand gestures with according symbolism (Ghori). Abhaya Mudra translates to gesture of fearlessness, and shows “the palm of a deity’s or teacher’s right hand [raised] towards the devotee to inspire trust and dispel fear” (Johnson).
This sculpture is from Myanmar in the 12-13th century. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a Southeast Asian country (BBC). The sculpture is derived from Indian models, but according to , it’s “facial type and proportions [were] altered to satisfy local tastes” (Kossak). The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama in “6th century B.C.E. into royalty at Kapilavastu, which lay in the foothills of the Himalayas near the present day Nepalese-Indian border” (Khan Academy). His teachings spread from there.
From the founders of major world religions, the Buddha was alone in being a teacher who identified himself as a regular human and nothing supernatural or extraordinary. Even if other teachers in alternate religions were not God themselves, they were constantly lead by a higher power. The Buddha attributed no inspiration for his work other than the power and intelligence of humans. “A Man and only a man can become a Buddha” (Khan Academy). With time the Buddha became the icon in history and spirituality that we know him to be now, which inevitably frames him as different than humans.
The story of the Buddha is that he met an elderly sick man, saw a corpse, and a “religious ascetic.” These sights woke him up to the pain and suffering in the world, and he knew he had to “seek liberation for himself and others” (Khan Academy). He gave up all he had, which was a significant amount of status and money, and spent six years practicing yoga and studying doctrine. After this he spent seven weeks under a Bodhi tree and struc enlightenment.
Once enlightened, he preached and traveled for 45 years. After impacting thousands of individuals with his teaching, he died at 80. As buddhism grew, the statues of the Buddha evolved. There is debate over when his image was first created and why. “Broadly speaking, the image of the Buddha emerged during the first few centuries C.E. in two major centers of Indian art during the Kushana period,” states Khan Academy.
The ancient region of Gandhara held one of these centers. The art made there was influenced by Hellenistic colonies. The second region was Mathura, which still stands as a city south of Delhi. Art in Mathura was comparatively more indigenous and had less interest in humanism. They preferred symbolism in a way that honors and idolizes the religious figures (Khan Academy).
The earliest stone artwork associated with buddhism is not of the Buddha. There was a lot of early art of monuments and symbols to honor him. Many scholars agree with the theory that a period of rejecting idolism in the religion, or aniconic period, took place that may have included a ban on creating images of the Buddha. There is still a number of theories and disagreement on the topic (Khan Academy).
Once the Buddha was being depicted, there was a switch to labeling the person in this representation as “Shakyamuni” rather than Buddha within the religion. This was in order to separate the new conception of him as a spiritual and divine being from who he was as a historical figure (Khan Academy).
The Standing Buddha statue, who’s artist is unlisted, shows a fairly traditional Shakyamuni. It is protective of fear and echoes the sentiments of The Buddha, who is not a God but a symbol of guidance in Buddhism thanks to his enlightened teachings. The religion grew after his death and this created many artworks that all share characteristics in common to honor the image of him.
- “Standing Buddha.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, MET, www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/39188.
- Richie, Cristina. “Symbolism in Asian Statues of the Buddha.” Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, 2014, doi:digitalcommons.usu.edu.
- Kossak, Steven M, and Edith W Watts. “The Art of South and Southeast Asia: A Resource for Educators.” UFDC Home – All Collection Groups, Dept. of Operations and Maintenance, Special Engineering Division, 2001, ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00011723/00001.
- Johnson, W. J. A Dictionary of Hinduism. Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Ghori, Ahmer K., and Kevin C. Chung. “Interpretation of Hand Signs in Buddhist Art.” The Journal of Hand Surgery, vol. 32, no. 6, 2007, pp. 918–922., doi:10.1016/j.jhsa.2007.03.006.
- “Who, What, Why: Should It Be Burma or Myanmar?” BBC News, BBC, 2 Dec. 2011, www.bbc.com/news/magazine-16000467.
- “Introduction to Buddhism.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/asian-art-museum/aam-buddhism-topic/buddhism/a/introduction-to-buddhism.
- “The Historical Buddha.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/cultures-religions-ap-arthistory/a/the-historical-buddha.