Elegantly outfitted in the sumptuous trappings of an Indian prince of old, this gilt bronze sculpture represents a bodhisattva, a benevolent being who has attained enlightenment but who has postponed entry into nirvana in order to assist other sentient beings in gaining enlightenment. Bodhisattvas generally are depicted with a single head, two arms, and two legs, though they in fact may be shown with multiple heads and limbs. Richly attired, bodhisattvas, who may be presented either standing or seated, are represented with long hair often arranged in a tall bun atop the head and often with long strands of hair cascading over the shoulders. As seen here, a crown sometimes surrounds the high topknot. Bodhisattvas wear ornamental scarves, dhotis of rich silk brocade, and a wealth of jewelry that typically includes necklaces, armlets, bracelets, and anklets; this figure’s beaded necklace descends from the neck to the chest, passes through a medallion at the waist, falls to the knees in two broad ellipses, and then loops around to the figure’s back. Like Buddhas, bodhisattvas have distended earlobes; some wear earrings, others do not.
Closely related sculptures are in the collections of the Harvard Art Museums (1943.53.75) and of the National Museum of Korea (NMK), Seoul (M335 and Sinsu 3298; see: National Museum of Korea, ed., Masterpieces of Early Buddhist Sculpture, 100 BCE–700 CE, Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2015, pp. 186-187, no. 92, M335, and pp. 200-201, no. 100, Sinsu 3298). This sculpture bears a striking visual and stylistic similarity to NMK M335, which the NMK curators date to the seventh century and assign to the Baekje Kingdom (c. 18 BC–AD 660), just as it also shows kinship to the seventh-century Harvard figure. The base’s polygonal lower edge finds parallels in the bases of the Harvard sculpture and of NMK Sinsu 3298, which the NMK curators date to the seventh century and ascribe to the Silla Kingdom (57 BC–AD 935).