The present small wall fragment depicts the future Buddha, Maitreya, seated with both legs pendent in the so-called 'Western' pose with hands in abhaya and varada mudras, symbolizing the expulsion of fears and the bestowal of wishes. These extremely attenuated forms in low relief were repeated in niches of single figures or triad groups, and their low relief cascading drapery would have appeared to flicker and move in the torch-lit gloom of the very earliest caves executed at Longmen, such as the famous Guyang cave begun when the Northern Wei rulers moved their capital from Datong to Luoyang in AD 494, and thereby transferred their patronage from the Yungang monastery to that at Longmen because of its proximity to the new capital.
Compare a low-relief figure, arguably identifiable with the Guyang Cave, seated in the cross-legged pose traditionally associated with Maitreya, beneath a widening skirt with flattened, rippling, pleated hems, in the collection of the Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, illustrated by J. Finlay, The Chinese Collection: Selected Works from the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, 2003, no.48. An extremely closely related figure excavated from the Longmen site is illustrated in Zhongguo Meishu Quanji, Diaosu - 11 - Longmen Shiku Diaoke, Beijing, 1988, fig. 49; while fig. 48 is facially different but posturally similar to the present lot. The latter is also similar to another Longmen Maitreya in the Western pose, formerly in the collection of Avery Brundage, now preserved in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and illustrated by d'Argence, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in the Avery Brundage Collection, Tokyo, 1974, fig. 40.