Medicine Buddha Bhaishajyaguru

Historical period(s)
8th-9th century
Medium
High tin bronze
Dimensions
H x W x D: 31.1 × 18 × 18.2 cm (12 1/4 × 7 1/16 × 7 3/16 in)
Geography
Indonesia
Credit Line
Gift of Ann and Gilbert Kinney
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Collection
Accession Number
S2015.25
On View Location
Sackler Gallery 22a: The Art of Knowing in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas
Classification(s)
Metalwork, Sculpture
Type

Figure: Buddha

Keywords
Buddha, Buddhism, Indonesia
Provenance

Before 1988
Samuel Eilenberg (1913-1998), method of acquisition unknown [1]

From at least 1992-?
Alexander Götz, method of acquisition unknown [2]

?-2002
Unknown collector, New York, NY, method of acquisition is unknown [3]

2002
Sale, New York, NY, Christie’s, “Indian and Southeast Asian Art,” March 20, 2002, lot 14 [4]

2002-2015
Gilbert Kinney (1932-2020) and Ann Kinney, purchased at March 20, 2002 Christie’s Sale, New York, NY [5]

From 2015
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, gift of Ann and Gilbert Kinney [6]

Notes:
[1] See Christie’s, “Indian and Southeast Asian Art” [auction catalogue] (New York, March 20, 2002), p. 26, lot 14 (illustrated). Samuel Eilenberg, a Polish emigre who came to the United States in 1939, was one of the 20th century's most renowned experts on algebraic topology and developed a new field of mathematics called homological algebra. Eilenberg became interested in art collecting on a trip to Bombay in the mid-1950s and put his storied collection together over the next 30 years. His fame among certain art collectors overshadows even his mathematical reputation. His collection included art from Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Central Asia dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 17th century. He acquired objects for his collection through dealers, including Spink and Son, auction houses, and also flea markets. Items from Eilenberg’s collection may also be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Cultural History (USLA), Friends of Israel Museum, and University of Missouri Museum of Art & Archeology. See Shehbaz H. Safrani, “Samuel Eilenberg” in “American Collectors of Asian Art” (Marg Publications, 1986), ed. Pratapaditya Pal, pp. 146-164. Skinner, “Asian Works of Art, featuring the Collection of Samuel Eilenberg” [auction cat.] (Boston, October 20, 2001), p. 5. Hyman Bass et. al., “Samuel Eilenberg 1913-1998: A Biographical Memoir” from “Biographical Memoirs,” ed. National Academy of Sciences (Washington, DC: The National Academy Press, 2000) vol. 79, pp. 1-29.

Eilenberg’s papers at the Columbia University Archives. In 2013, a museum researcher searched Eilenberg’s papers and no specific information on this object was found and the whereabouts of this object prior to 1970 remains unknown.

[2] See Alexander Götz and Shirley Day, “The Ancient Art of Southeast Asia” [exhibition catalogue] (London: Shirley Day Ltd., in association with Alexander Götz, 1992), cat. no. 7 (illustrated). See also email to Ann Kinney to Debra Diamond, March 12, 2012, where Ann Kinney informs Debra Diamond that she talked to Shirley Day, who reported that this object had been consigned to her gallery by Alexander Götz. In the email, the object is described as “#98, the Medicine Buddha,” copy in object file.

Alexander Götz is a German collector and dealer specializing in Indonesian art. Götz moved to Bali in 1971 (living in Ubud) and he started collecting contemporary Indonesia art in 1972. In 1985, Götz left Bali and returned to Germany with his family. Between 1990 and 2015, Götz owned and operated a self-titled gallery in London, England that specialized in South and Southeast Asian art. Götz also sold works at the art fair Asian Art in London and at the International Asian Art Fair in New York, NY. In 2015, Götz moved back to Indonesia and opened a gallery in Kabupaten Badung, Bali. Items from his collection can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[3] See note 1 and note 2. In the catalogue for the March 20, 2002 Christie’s sale, the owner is described as “Property of a New York City Collector.” It is possible that this unknown New York collector purchased the object from Shirley Day since she stated that the object was consigned to be by Götz. Or, the object could have been purchased from Götz at the International Asian Art Fair in New York, NY. There is no evidence to support either theory.

[4] See note 1. In the Christie’s catalogue, the object is described as “An Important Bronze Figure of the Medicine Buddha, Baishajyaguru, Central Java, 8th/9th century.”

[5] See Christie’s invoice addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert H. Kinney, dated March 20, 2002, copy in object file. Gilbert H. Kinney and Ann Kinney were American philanthropists and collectors of Modern American art and South and Southeast Asian art. Items from Mr. and Mrs. Kinney’s collection may also be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and Yale University Art Gallery. Mr. Kinney later served on several boards including the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (President 1979-1982; Trustee Emeritus in 2019); Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Yale University Art Gallery; and the American Federation of the Arts, New York, NY.

[6] See Deed of Gift, dated December 8, 2015, copy in object file.

Research Completed November 3, 2022

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Ann Kinney
Alexander Götz
Dr. Samuel Eilenberg 1913-1998
Gilbert H. Kinney 1931-2020

Label

This beautifully modeled and proportioned sculpture represents Bhaishajyaguru, the Buddha of medicine. Bhaishajyaguru is at the center of an important tradition associated with Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Early in the cult's development in northern India, Bhaishajyaguru multiplied into eight Medicine Buddhas; the tradition subsequently spread to China, Japan, Tibet and Southeast Asia. According to Buddhist texts, Bhaishajyaguru’s lapis lazuli body shines with a light greater than that of the sun and he dwells in the Eastern Pure Land of Vaiduryanirbhasa (Pure Lapis Lazuli). He is worshipped for his ability to cure physical and mental illness and alleviate suffering from cold, hunger, thirst, and even mosquitoes.

This Javanese Bhaishajyaguru closely recalls eighth-century Indian sculptures of the medicine Buddha. Monks frequently traveled from Java to northeastern India, where they visited sites associated with the Buddha’s life and studied at the great Buddhist universities. They brought home devotional images, which served as visual resources for local artists. Here, the figure is seated in padmasana on a double-lotus throne atop a multi-tiered rectangular base and encircled by a round halo with flamed border surmounted by the Buddhist parasol (chattra). Flower blossoms hover on the backplate, falling around the Buddha's head. He holds a myrobalan fruit in his open-palmed right hand, and a manuscript or possibly a bundle of medicine in his left. The gently swelling forms of the Buddha’s body, emphasized by the robe’s sinuous curve across his chest, exude vitality. His gentle smile and the downward gaze of his lotus petal-shaped eyes, accentuate his serenity.

Published References
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 52-53.
  • Donald S. Lopez Jr, Rebecca Bloom. Hyecho's Journey: The World of Buddhism. Chicago, December 2017. p. 83, fig. 7.
Collection Area(s)
Southeast Asian Art
Web Resources
F|S Southeast Asia
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