Buddhas of the Past and Present

Historical period(s)
Northern Wei dynasty, ca. 475-534 C. E.
Bronze, gilt
H x W x D: 13.8 x 13.4 x 6.1 cm (5 7/16 x 5 1/4 x 2 3/8 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Sculpture

Figure: Buddha and Prabhutaratna

Buddhism, China, dhyana mudra, halo, Northern Wei dynasty (386 - 534), Prabhutaratna Buddha

To 1911
Ta Ge Shang, Beijing, to 1911 [1]

From 1911 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Ta Ge Shang in 1911 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See Original Bronze List, S.I. 285, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Ta Ge Shang (C.L. Freer source)
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919


The inscription on the base of this fragmentary devotional image does not contain a legible date, but the style is consistent with gilt bronzes made during the Northern Wei dynasty (386-535). The image represents the Buddha of the Present conversing with the Buddha of the Past, an event described in the Lotus Sutra, a sacred text. As the inscription attests, lay Buddhist worshipers commissioned the image to accumulate spiritual merit.

Museum conservators who removed a layer of earthy incrustation from the work in 1956 found the gilding exceptionally well preserved. The image's excellent condition coupled with its somewhat perplexing mixture of stylistic features from both the fifth and the sixth centuries brought the object under scrutiny as a fake. The soft drapery folds, the rounded faces, and the details of the dragon arch are consistent with fifth-century works, but the "waterfall" drapery cascading over the front of the dais more closely resembles a sixth-century work. Nonetheless, the sculpture is currently accepted as genuine, and detailed scientific examination supports its authenticity.  

Published References
  • Hugo Munsterberg. Der Ferne Osten. Kunst im Bild Baden-Baden. p. 58.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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