This sculpture is the earliest known dated Buddha object produced in China, with an inscription on its base mentioning the year 338. This year, which is five hundred years after Buddhism was transmitted from India to China, makes it an important milestone in the development of Buddhist art in China. This is among the largest bronze sculptures to have survived from its period.

The style of this work was influenced by Buddhist sculptures from the ancient region of Gandhara, which included parts of modern Pakistan, Afghanistan, and northwestern India. The figure’s arrangement, with legs crossed beneath, set symmetrically on a rectangular pedestal, is modeled after Indian sculptures brought to China via the Silk Road. However, this Buddha’s overlapping, inward-facing palms are adopted from a formal Chinese gesture of reverence.

The inscription on the back of the base attributes this sculpture to the Later Zhao, a small state founded by the Jie. A non-Han Chinese people from Central Asia, the Jie controlled China’s Central Plain during the fourth century. The state’s rulers regarded the Indian monk Fotudeng as their principal religious counselor and military adviser in the campaigns they undertook to extend their territory and authority. Fotudeng had settled in the Central Plains in 310, preaching the Buddhist faith and seeking converts. He inspired Shi Hu, the third king of the Later Zhao, which may have prompted the ruler to commission this dignified statue. In 338, Shi Hu captured more than forty cities in the Central Plain. This sculpture was produced the same year, likely because the king believed the Buddha was miraculous and worshiped him to achieve a blessing of victory.

Since gold was scarce and expensive in ancient China, it was often imitated with bronze thinly coated in gold, which gave the metal greater resistance to tarnishing. The Chinese use of gold on bronze goes back more than two thousand years and was applied using a technique known as “mercury gilding.” The gilded surface is produced by applying a pastelike mixture of gold and mercury on the bronze. The bronze is heated on a charcoal fire to evaporate the mercury, leaving the gold bonded to the surface. This gold surface is then burnished with a hard, smooth metal or stone tool to make it more compact and shiny. The gilding over the entirety of this large Buddha, much of which has been preserved, make the sculpture one of the most accomplished of its time.


  • Title: Buddha dated 338
  • Date Created: Late Zhao period (319-351)
  • Location Created: China; Hebei province
  • Physical Dimensions: H. 40 cm x W. 24.1 cm x D. 13.3 cm
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Medium: Gilded bronze
  • Credit Line: The Avery Brundage Collection, B60B1034

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