Seated Bodhisattva

JapaneseAbout 775

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago, United States

This rare and important sculpture represents a Buddhist bodhisattva, or “bosatsu,” an enlightened and compassionate being who postponed buddhahood in order to help save others. Calm, stately, and full-bodied, the bosatsu is seated in a frontal, meditative pose; his gracefully held hands, raised midair, make a gesture of assurance. Buddhism, which originated in India with the teachings of the Buddha Sakyamuni, or Siddhartha Gautama (about 563–about 483 B.C.), was named the official religion of Japan at the beginning of the eighth century by the emperor Shomu (ruled 701–56). This small, finely crafted lacquer figure is the only Buddhist sculpture outside Japan that is firmly attributed to the influential sculpture workshop of Todai-ji, the largest and most prestigious of the great state-sponsored Buddhist temples built during the Nara period. This sculpture represents a dramatic shift in Japanese sculptural tradition—a move away from the expensive, time-consuming technique of using lacquer (a resin extracted from the sap of a tree) over a temporary clay core that, once removed, left a sculpture that was completely hollow except for perhaps a wood bracing system. Here a sculpted wood core is overlaid with lacquer-soaked cloth. The innovative sculptors at the Nara temple modeled the wet and pliable surface of the cloth to create fine details such as facial features and jewelry. Finally, the sculpture was gilded; traces of gold remain on the bodhisattva’s face and chest.


  • Title: Seated Bodhisattva
  • Creator: Japanese
  • Date Created: About 775
  • Physical Dimensions: 61 × 43.2 × 32.3 cm (24 × 17 × 12 3/4 in.)
  • Type: Sculpture
  • External Link: The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Media: Wood core, dry lacquer, and traces of gold leaf
  • Credit Line: The Art Institute of Chicago, Kate S. Buckingham Endowment, 1962.356
  • Artist: Japanese

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