Bodhisattva Statues, Symbols of Mercy and Salvation

In the 6th and 7th centuries during the Three Kingdoms period, bodhisattva statues with slim, long figures and smooth surfaces were very popular. This trend is also evident in the gilt-bronze bodhisattva statues created in Japan around the same time. The statues wear flower crowns on their heads and hold wish-fulfilling cintāmaṇi jewels or kundika ewers in their hands. In addition, the soft curves of the draping robe and body illustrate the outstanding sculptural techniques of the time.


Gilt-bronze Standing Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva (金銅觀音菩薩立像)

Three Kingdoms period, Baekje, 7th century, gilt bronze, H. 21.1cm. Buyeo National Museum, Korea, National Treasure no. 293. ⓒBuyeo National Museum

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This gilt-bronze standing bodhisattva statue was excavated in 1907 in Gyuam-ri (窺岩里), Gyuam-myeon (窺岩面), Buyeo-gun (扶餘郡), South Chungcheong Province (忠淸南道). It is characterized by an ornamental crown with a miniature “transformation Buddha”, or avatar, and the fact that it holds the hem of the scarf with the left hand "both shoulders cross at the waist in an X shape, which is frequently seen in 7th-century Three Kingdoms bodhisattva statues.

Gilt-bronze Standing Bodhisattva (公州 儀堂 金銅菩薩立像)

Three Kingdoms period, Baekje, 6th to 7th century, gilt bronze, H. 25cm. Gongju National Museum, Korea, National Treasure no. 247. ⓒGongju National Museum

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This gilt-bronze standing Bodhisattva was excavated in 1974 in Songjeong-ri (松亭里), Uidang-myeon (儀堂面), Gongju City (公州市), South Chungcheong Province (忠淸南道). As the bodhisattva is wearing a flower crown with a miniature Transformation Buddha, it is clearly Avalokiteśvara. In an unusual style, both hands hold items; the left hand holding a kundika ewer and the right hand a lotus flower. An ornamental strip of cloth (天衣), which clings to the body, crosses in an X-shaped shape in front of the knees and drapes over the shoulders, drooping down the back in a U-shape. Also, a beaded ornament connected to the necklace hangs down in a single row, which then is divided into two rows that are connected at the back.

Gilt-bronze Standing Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva (金銅觀音菩薩立像)

Unified Silla period, 8th to 9th century, gilt bronze, overall H. 23.3cm. National Museum of Korea. ⓒNational Museum of Korea

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This gilt-bronze bodhisattva, which stands on a three-tiered pedestal, is composed of three parts that have been organically combined. The three parts are ① the pedestal base (下臺), ② the middle (中臺) and upper sections of the pedestal (上臺), and ③ the bodhisattva body. Based on a visible protrusion at the forehead, we may presume that it once wore an ornamental crown [that would have rested just above it]. Also, part of the decorative hairstyle hangs down, covering the ears. It is highly likely that the raised right hand originally held an item such as an ewer. A hole from the casting can be seen at the back of the head and the entire torso is open on the back side.

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