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SPEAKER 1: We are here at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, looking at a monumental sculpture of a Bodhisattva. So, Buddha is the main figure we often see. And there are many Buddhas in Chinese Buddhist art. There's the historical Buddha, but lots of other figures. And then there are also Bodhisattvas, and that's what we're looking at. And one of the main ways you can distinguish them is that the Bodhisattva's often heavily adorned, like this figure is. SPEAKER 2: A Bodhisattva is an enlightened being that has chosen not to pursue nirvana, but to remain with ties to the earthly realm and secure enlightenment, or release from Samsara, which is the cycle of rebirth for all sentient beings. So Bodhisattvas are seen as beings of compassion. SPEAKER 1: So they've decided to forgo nirvana and be here for us, for a regular people, to help us to achieve or own nirvana. SPEAKER 2: And they're shown to have these worldly ties through their princely garb. The iconography of a Buddha is shown in monk's garb, having relinquished all ties to the earth, all ties to material things. So you see the Buddha with the elongated earlobes and the jewels removed. Here we see a Bodhisattva in princely robes and heavily adorned with valuable jewels, showing their connection still to the earth. SPEAKER 1: What's funny is that this is the Bodhisattva of compassion. And yet, I don't feel a lot of identification with it. It's very frontal, it's very symmetrical and severe and kind of abstracted. And it feels very distant, in that way. SPEAKER 2: There is a solemness and a serenity, but there's also a haughtiness to the facial expression of this image. SPEAKER 1: Exactly. He must be about 15 or 20 feet high. And I imagine it stood in a temple complex. SPEAKER 2: Yes, it's huge and frontal, so perhaps it was the main image for worship in its original location. SPEAKER 1: And often, these kinds of figures would be shown in groups within a temple. And this one is so large that it 's likely that it was the main figure. SPEAKER 2: Often, Bodhisattvas are shown flanking Buddhas. And they'll have the weight on one foot, turning towards the Buddha that they're flanking. And this image is presented frontally, and often this Bodhisattva is attributed to being Avalokiteshvara, Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of compassion. The most popular Bodhisattva for worship in China under Mahayana type of Buddhism. SPEAKER 1: One of the ways we would normally identify a Bodhisattva figure, since there are many Bodhisattvas representing different ideas, is by what they're holding. But unfortunately, this sculpture, being from the sixth century, has suffered a lot of damage and its hands are no longer with it. And so we don't know what it held in its hands. SPEAKER 2: Right, we don't know what the attributes may have been. And Avalokiteshvara, Guanyin in China, often has the Buddha Amitabha in the crown. And that's an attribute that distinguishes it and makes it clear that the iconography is Avalokiteshvara. But here, the Buddha image is not there. It's more of a floral crown. So there is some uncertainty over which Bodhisattva this actually is. SPEAKER 1: It's interesting how much we can tell about it, but how much of it is still really in dispute by scholars. And the styles of art that we see in art history are so often connected to the historical circumstances, often politics, the government. And we know that the period just before this was called the Northern Way, which had a really different style. SPEAKER 2: Yes, what happened is in the Northern Way, the style that was predominant was weightless and very linear. Important examples can be found at the cave temple complex of Yungang, where in cave six you would see a Buddha or Bodhisattva image that shows no attention to the body form, but a lot of attention to the folds and line of the drapery. And the shapes are weightless. SPEAKER 1: So that period known as the Northern Way is about 50 years before this, and is a relatively stable time in parts of China-- SPEAKER 2: Particularly in the North, absolutely. SPEAKER 1: --and then a period of political upheaval follows. SPEAKER 2: And the two strong dynasties that emerge in the north are the northern Chi in the east and the northern Chou in the west. And this is a very interesting Bodhisattva example, when you're thinking about that time period. There are some characteristics here that really indicate the northern Chi, but others that indicate the northern Chou. And granted, there's a lot of overlap between the styles of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that come out of these two dynasties. One thing is this incredible opulence in terms of the drapery and the jewelry details that are often associated with the northern Chou. The other aspect that is northern Chou is the really square shape to the face, the block-like features. Both the northern Chou and the northern Chi broke in from this Northern Way aesthetic of weightlessness, and show the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas with a lot of three-dimensional and geometric form. SPEAKER 1: This figure is anything but weightless. SPEAKER 2: Absolutely, and you can see it's monumental and columnar. But it has this weight and volume. We're looking at it the way that it would have been viewed in the temple. We would be looking up at it. And that's why the head is so oversized. SPEAKER 1: So the artist would have wanted to make sure we could really see the head. SPEAKER 2: Yes. SPEAKER 1: And from far below, one way to do that is to enlarge the head. SPEAKER 2: And looking at the facial features in particular, there is a head at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is from Xiangtangshan, a northern Chi site in China. And if you compare this head, you can see that this is much more block-like. But when you look at the lips and the eyes and other aspects of the facial features, there is a similarity. SPEAKER 1: So we're really talking about dynasties, different historical periods, and different regional styles emerging in different places. And art historians really needing to study each of those places and the art that emerges. And then comparing and contrasting to date and to locate a lot of these early figures. SPEAKER 2: Buddhism had only come to China a few years earlier from India, and in that a few years, the styles the developed for Buddhist art are really dependent on those different regions and the different dynasties. And therefore, there's so much change going on. And this is an interesting example of that because we see here, this very abrupt break with the weightless, linear aesthetic of the Northern Way to this much more volumetric, massive form that is associated with the northern Chi and the northern Chou. The source for this change is often identified as Gupta in India. Sensuous Gupta style. SPEAKER 1: It's really a puzzle-- SPEAKER 2: It is. SPEAKER 1: --in so many ways. So many questions. One thing we know for sure, because we can see the residue here, is that the sculpture was painted. And probably painted many times to keep the color vibrant over the years. SPEAKER 2: What we're looking at is probably remnants of Ming dynasty painting, maybe 16th century, but it would have been originally painted as well. SPEAKER 1: So it's important to imagine it in its original context, within a temple, sensuously painted. And in that kind of religious spiritual context. SPEAKER 2: Yes, in a much darker environment, as well. And surrounded by other sculptures and paintings.