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Gallery Text

This gilt-bronze sculpture depicts the historical Buddha Shakyamuni seated on a rectangular throne flanked by a pair of small lions and two donor figures. The Buddha’s hands form the dhyana mudra, a gesture of meditation; the eight triangular points emanating from his shoulders represent flames—a visible manifestation of the body heat associated with meditative practice. Whereas the Buddha’s facial features, mustache, hair, and robes reflect the artistic influence of Gandhara—an ancient kingdom that included parts of present-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and northwestern India—the lions and donor figures are Chinese in style. In fact, this sculpture ranks among the earliest-known iconic images of the Buddha produced in China, and unlike most of its Indian counterparts, it was cast using the piece-mold technique, the dominant mode of bronzecasting in pre-Buddhist China. The cavity at the top of its head may indicate that the figure once housed relics.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Seated Buddha Shakyamuni in Meditation with Hands in Dhyana-Mudra and with Flaming Shoulders
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Seated Buddha with Flaming Shoulders
Alternate Title: Sakyamuni
Work Type
3rd-4th century
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Six Dynasties period, 220-589
Level 1, Room 1610, Buddhist Sculpture, Buddhism and Early East Asian Buddhist Art
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Physical Descriptions
Gilt bronze; Gandhara type
H. 32 x W. 24 x D. 13 cm (12 5/8 x 9 7/16 x 5 1/8 in.)
[Yamanaka & Co., New York (by 1940)] sold; to Grenville L. Winthrop, New York (by 1940-1943), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

Dorothy W. Gillerman, Gridley McKim-Smith, and Joan R. Mertens, Grenville L. Winthrop: Retrospective for a Collector, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1969), no. 063, pp. 72-73

W. Chie Ishibashi, "East Asian Buddhist Bronzes: A Comparative Analytical Study and a Preliminary Report" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, August 1977), Unpublished, passim

Max Loehr, "Aesthetic Delight: An Anthology of Far Eastern Art", Apollo (New Series), Apollo Publications Inc. (London, England, May 1978), vol. CVII, no. 195, pp. 414-421, p. 415, fig. 3

Kristin A. Mortimer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums/Abbeville Press (Cambridge, MA; New York, NY, 1985), no. 17, p. 24

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 30

Christoph Baumer, The History of Central Asia: The Age of the Silk Roads, I. B. Tauris (London, 2014), p. 48, fig. 30

Leopold Swergold, Thoughts on Chinese Buddhist Gilt Bronzes (n.p., 2014), p. 16, ill. p. 17

Exhibition History

Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 11/23/2008

32Q: 1610 Buddhist Art I, Harvard Art Museums, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

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Related Works

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