Pensive Bodhisattva

UnknownThree Kingdoms Period, Late 6th century

National Museum of Korea

National Museum of Korea
Seoul, South Korea

This statue strikes a classic contemplative pose: one leg perched up on the other knee, with fingers raised up against the cheek. This pose is quite common in Buddhist sculpture, and it was derived from the young Indian Prince, Siddhartha Gautama, contemplating the nature of human life. In China, such pensive statues were most common in the 5th and 6th centuries, while in Korea they are usually from the 6th and 7th centuries.
This Buddhist statue (designated as Korea’s National Treasure #78) sports a tall crown decorated with a sun and moon. This type of crown originated in the Sassanid Persian Empire, but it was transmitted east via the Silk Road and was adapted as a crown for bodhisattvas. The statue is relatively tall, but the bronze layer is exceptionally thin—as thin as 2 mm—showing that the artisans of the period had developed advanced metal craft techniques. The sophistication of the artistic style and technique is further exemplified by several lifelike details: the benign, delicate smile; the amazingly natural sitting posture; the organic harmony between the body parts; and the dynamic flow of the veil robe and waist rope.


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