If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:7:47

Video transcript

we are here at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York looking at a monumental sculpture of a bodhisattva so Buddha's the main figure we often see and there are many Buddha's 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 Bodhisattvas often heavily adorned like this figure is a bodhisattva is a 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 so they've decided to forego Nirvana and be here for us for regular people to help us to achieve our own Nirvana 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 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 there is a solemn Ness and a serenity but there is also a haughtiness to the facial expression of this image exactly he must be about 15 or 20 feet high and I imagine it stood in a temple complex yes it's huge and frontal so perhaps it was the main image for worship in its original location and often these kinds of figures would be shown in guru within a temple and this one is so large that it's likely that it was the main figure often Bodhisattvas are shown flanking Buddhas and they'll have the weight on one foot turning toward the Buddha that they're flanking and this image is presented frontally and often this Bodhisattva is attributed to being of a low-key test for a Guan Yin the Bodhisattva of compassion the most popular Bodhisattva for worship in China under Mahayana types of Buddhism 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 the sculpture being from the 6th century has suffered a lot of damage and its hands are no longer with it and so we don't know what it held and right don't know what the attributes may have been an oval oke test fora Guan Yin in China often has the Buddha Amitabha in the crown and that's like an attribute that distinguishes it and makes it clear the iconography is of a low-key tetra but here the buddha image is not there it's a more of a floral crown so there is some uncertainty over which a bodhisattva this actually is 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 histories 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 Wei which had a really different style yes what happens is in the Northern Wei the style that was predominant was weightless and very linear important examples can be found at the cave temple complex of un Gong 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 so that period known as the Northern Wei is about fifty years before this and is a relatively stable time in parts of China particularly in the north absolutely and then a period of political upheaval follows and the two strong dynasties that emerge in the north are the northern Qi in the east and the northern Jo 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 Qi but others that indicate the northern Joe and Franta 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 Jo the other aspect that is northern Jo is the really square shape to the face the block-like features both the northern Jo and the northern Qi broken from this Northern Wei aesthetic of weightlessness and show the Bodhisattvas and Buddha's with a lot of three-dimensional and geometric form this figure is anything but weightless absolutely if you can see it's monumental and columnar but it has this weight and volume we are 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 so the artist would have wanted to make sure we could really see the head yes and from far below one way to do that is to enlarge the head looking at the facial features in particular there is a head at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is from Hong Kong Shan northern Qi site in China and if you compare this head you can see that this is much more block light but when you look at the lips and the eyes and other aspects of the facial features there is a similarity so we're really talking about dynasties different historical periods and different regional styles emerging in different places and our 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 Buddhism had only come to China a few hundred years earlier from India and in that few hundred years the styles that develop for Buddhists are 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 in northern Jo the source for this change is often identified as Gupta in India sensuous Gupta style truly a puzzle it's every way 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 what we're looking at is probably remnants of Ming Dynasty painting maybe 16th century but it would have been originally painted as well so it's important to imagine it in its original context within a temple sensuously painted and in that kind of religious spiritual context yes and in a much darker environment as well and surrounded by other sculptures and paintings