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The Bodhisattva Maitreya, Late 8th century A.D.

Southeast Asian

The earliest surviving Buddhist images in Southeast Asia, dating from the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., were the bronzes brought from India and Sri Lanka by merchants and monks. The first locally made images date to the sixth century and demonstrate that regional styles were already developing. One of these regional styles is represented by a group of bronzes unearthed in 1964 in the base of an abandoned temple in the village of Prakhon Chai, in northeast Thailand.

This graceful sculpture is one of the largest and most beautiful of the hoard. The four-armed bodhisattva—one of the divine beings who put off their own final nirvana to assist mankind—can be identified as a Maitreya, the bodhisattva of the future, on the basis of the small stupa (a venerated Buddhist structure) located at the base of his coiffure. The four arms indicate his divinity and represent a multiplicity of powers. Very different from the typical Indian bodhisattva images, which are dressed in skirts, flowing scarves, and abundant jewelry, this figure has a slender, bare body, clothed only in a short garment covering the loins, in a manner more characteristic of Cambodian art. The scanty clothing, lack of jewelry, and unkempt hair indicate that this sculpture represents a bodhisattva-ascetic, one who practices austerities in order to attain spiritual enlightenment.


(Ellsworth & Goldie, Ltd., New York);

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1965.

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