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625. Bodhisattvas

China, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), 14th century
Height: 135 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, United Kingdom

A pair of large stucco bodhisattvas sitting on lotus bases, with one leg up and the other down in the pose ‘Royal Ease’. They mirror each other, one with the right leg raised, the other the left. They each have a different right hand posture – one holds their hand raised in the vitarka mudra, representing intellectual argument and the wheel of law. The other holds a scroll, an attribute representing Buddhist teaching. Both figures wear identical flowing robes, shawls and scarves, their exposed chests adorned with a pendant necklace. They wear elaborate high crowns, their hair swept up in top knots. The gold-leafed clothing has a raised decorative pattern; the lining of the robes is red.

Bodhisattva is a compound word, formed from bodhi (spiritual awakening, enlightenment) and sattva (a being, spirit). Together they mean ‘a being set upon enlightenment’. They are learned deities of compassion, who delay entering nirvana in order to help others attain enlightenment. They are mostly depicted as less inward than Buddha, alluringly portrayed with precious jewelry, elegant garments and graceful postures.

The Metropolitan Museum (New York), has a smaller stucco bodhisattva dating from the same period (Acc. Nr 58.64.32a).

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