Brush Up: Bodhisattvas

Maitreya, Buddha of the Future

“Brush up” is a new series you’ll be seeing on our blog– it’s a way for you to (re)discover the vast landscape of Asian art from home and enhance your visits to PAM! This first post is a primer on one distinctive depiction of a Bodhisattva, a spiritual being who is closely linked to the Buddha.

Buddha means “one who is enlightened” or “one who has awoken.” Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the historical Buddha or Buddha Shakyamuni, was not the first Buddha, nor he will be the last. Throughout the Buddhist world, beings who were enlightened in the past and who will be in the future are revered and worshiped.

Unlike the historical Buddha, Bodhisattvas have not yet passed into complete enlightenment, remaining to aid others in reaching enlightenment as well. They are depicted as still being attached to this world. To show this attachment, Bodhisattvas are often shown wearing elaborate jewelry and garments, which the princely Siddhartha Gautama renounced when he reached enlightenment.

Maitreya BuddhaIn addition to the jewelry, there are other visual clues that these statues are Bodhisattvas. They sometimes wear an animal skin over their shoulders as a symbol of royalty and have elegant hairstyles. Typical of many Tibetan Buddhist images, the top figure also has engraved details and semi-precious stone inlay.

Want to get a closer look? The top statue is on view now in 40 Years of Building the Pacific Asia Museum Collection and the bottom is on view in our Himalayan Gallery. We also encourage suggestions– what do you want to learn about in “Brush Up”?~CM

Top Image: Bodhisattva, Tibet, c.1300. Silver with gilding and precious stone inlay, Pacific Asia Museum Collection. Gift from the Nancy King Collection, 2001.1.1

Bottom Image: Bodhisattva, India; Himachal Pradesh, c. 8th century, bronze, Pacific Asia Museum Collection. Museum purchase with funds provided by Dorrie Braun, 1987.1.1

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