This impresssive early bronze figure of Shakyamuni Buddha reflects the influence of Buddhist images from Gandhara, particularly in its depiction of the hair, with the distinctive swirl below the ushnisha, and the delineated folds of the robes. These stylistic features are seen on two Gandharan stone carvings depicting scenes from the Life of the Buddha, dated to the second to third century CE, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, In the Footsteps of Buddha - An Iconic Journey from India to China, Hong Kong, 1998, pp. 161-62, nos. 14 and 15.
The depiction of Shakyamuni Buddha in this particular seated position, with hands clasped above the crossed legs, is a standard iconography found during the fourth and fifth centuries, as are the similarly draped robes with their distinctive parallel folds. All of these features, including the unusual fanned folds between the legs, can be seen on a gilt-bronze shrine, dated to 480 CE, that is similar to the present example, not only in the shape of the base, but also in the inclusion of similar chased figures on the front of the base (see Fojiao Diaosu Mingpin Tulu, Beijing, 1997, p. 76, no. 49). Similar features are also seen on a gilt-bronze figure dated 437 CE, illustrated by S. Mizuno in Bronze and Stone Sculpture of China from the Yin to the T'ang Dynasty, Tokyo, 1960, pls. 92 and 93. The hair on this figure is also similarly rendered, although there is no circular swirl below the ushnisha, as there is on the present figure and on the hair of a gilt-bronze Shakyamuni Buddha, dated to the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), illustrated in Bronze and Stone Sculpture of China from the Yin to the T'ang Dynasty, pls. 108 and 109. Both of these latter figures are seated on waisted rectangular bases similar to that of the figure here, but rather than having solid sides chased with decoration, the sides have arched openings. A stone figure dated to 476, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, included in Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Statues in Overseas Collections, vol. 2, Beijing, 2005, p. 251, has the same pose, hair, and parallel folds in the robe, including fanned folds below the hands, as seen on the present figure.
On the reverse of the aureole are the images of Shakyamuni and Prabhutaratna. The representation of these two Buddhas together is derived from the Saddharmanudarika Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, where the text describes how Prabhutaratna, the Buddha of the Past, returns from nirvana on a jeweled stupa to hear Shakyamuni preaching the dharma. A Northern Wei-dynasty gilt-bronze group of Shakayamuni and Prabhutaratna shown seated side-by-side, dated 489, in the Nezu Museum, Tokyo, is illustrated by Hugo Munsterberg in Chinese Buddhist Bronzes, Vermont/Japan, 1988, pl. 33. The seated position and the robes of the Shakyamuni figure on the Nezu shrine are similar to those of the present figure.