The Unified Silla period was the golden age of Korean Buddhism and of its sculpture. In the 8th century Korean Buddhist images were modelled closely on Tang dynasty Chinese prototypes, but gradually a Korean aesthetic began to assert itself. With time, sculptures become flatter and more linear, as in the present example. The large head and squared, flattened face are also typical of Korean sculpture as it evolved during the Unified Silla period.
There are hundreds of gilt bronze Buddhas surviving from the early Koryo, but almost no two statues are alike; individuality seems to be one hallmark of Korean Buddhist sculpture. Most of the gilt bronzes are small; only about a half dozen are large, anywhere from 35-40 cm., not including a pedestal, which is almost always missing. The Buddha shown here measures 46.2 cm. including its base; the figure alone (not including the tang protruding from the feet) is 35 cm. A Korean gilt bronze of the same size (40.5 cm. including tang), dated to the early 10th century, was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1986 (see Hyung-min Chung, "Quiet Assertions: Korean Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," Orientations Vol. 19, No. 1 [January 1988], fig. 2, p. 17). There is also a standing Buddha with close stylistic affinities to the present example in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, dated to the 9th century. (See The Avery Brundage Collection: Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 1974, pl. 192.)
The pedestal type with a lotus pad supported by a circle of trefoil leaves on a two tiered base is known from several Unified Silla bronzes; an obvious prototype is an 8th-century standing gilt bronze Buddha (H. 35 cm. including base) excavated in 1975 from Anap Pond, within the Silla royal palace compound in Kyongju, and now in the Kyongju National Museum (illustrated in Kankoku kodai bunkaten [The Ancient Korean Arts: Quintessence of 1,000 Years of Silla], organized by The National Museum of Korea, exh. cat., Tokyo: Chunichi shimbun, 1983, Pl. 117.) The Anap Pond statue, earlier in date, is more fluid in the modelling of its drapery and more realistic in the suggestion of the rounded, fleshy volume of its legs.
Traces of original gilding remain to accentuate the patination of the bronze. Large openings at the back of the head and body show that it was cast in one piece, a technique characteristic of the Unified Silla period. Tenons for affixing a separately cast mandorla were originally attached to the back; these are now lost, as is usually the case.
The large size of the image suggests that it may have been a very important devotional object for private worship, commissioned by a wealthy patron.