Maitreya, Buddha of the Future Age, governs two perfected worlds: Tusita Heaven, which he currently inhabits, and Ketumati, an ideal realm conducive to the pursuit of enlightenment where he will serve as the teaching Buddha. The Meitreya's hand gestures held in abhaya and varada mudras, embodied a message of the coming salvation of all sentient beings.
One of the most interesting iconographic features of the present figure is the formulaic rendering of the U-shaped folds of the robe which is known as Udayana, an ancient name for the early Gandharan region now in the present-day Swat Valley, Pakistan, from which similarly robed images of Maitreya first originated. This distinctive style of dress had transmitted along the Silk Road to China, and appeared as early as the fourth century as exemplified by the gilt-bronze seated Sakyamuni from Asian Art of San Francisco, illustrated by H. Munsterberg, Chinese Buddhist Bronzes, New York, 1988, p. 37, fig. 1, which bears an inscription dated to AD338. This stylised undulation of the robes continued into the 5th century, cf. a gilt-bronze seated Sakyamuni, from the Nelson Gallery of Art, Kansas City, and another similar figure from the collection of Mr Ivan Hart, New York, illustrated ibid., figs. 2 and 4 respectively.
After the 5th century, Chinese Buddhist images in both facial features and style of clothing began to deviate from their Indian models. By the early Ming period, motivated by Emperor Yongle's devotion to Buddhism, this iconographic dress style was briefly revived and re-interpreted. In keeping with the style of the Yongle period, the present figure is fleshed-out with broad shoulders; the casting of the robe is extraordinary thin so that the thighs are prominent beside the cascading folds of the sleeves.
The most comparable example to the present figure is from the Speelman collection sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 7 October 2007, lot 803. The Speelman figure is slightly larger at 19 cm. high; and stands on a similarly cast lotus base, although it is circular in cross-section rather than oval as in this instance.