Of the many deities that played a role in Chinese Buddhism, Manjushri (in Chinese, Wenshu), the bodhisattva of wisdom, is among the most appealing. One of the three most important bodhisattvas in East Asia, Manjushri is said to have originated in China from the mountains associated with Mount Wutai, a famous Buddhist monastic center. He was worshiped in China as the embodiment of knowledge and the guardian of sacred doctrines. Usually presented as a youthful, bejeweled prince, he is often shown seated on the back of a lion, and carries a book of truth and a sword that cuts through the darkness of ignorance. Depictions of Manjushri mounted on a lion were popular from the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618–907) onward, and in this form he was most frequently paired with the bodhisattva Samantabhadhra, these two figures flanking the historical Buddha Shakyamuni in a triad.
Among the Buddhist sculptures of China, bronze images occupy a very prominent place. Some of the finest religious works, especially during the Song dynasty (A.D. 960–1279), were executed in this medium. Although paintings of Manjushri dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century are still extant, sculptures—particularly gilt-bronzes of this size—are extremely rare. This beautifully proportioned and superbly detailed example is a very rare, complete image of the divinity, preserved in excellent condition.
Kuraishi Collection, Kyushu, Japan, since the 1930s;
purchased by (R. H. Ellsworth, Ltd., New York), by 1987;
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1987