Shakyamuni Buddha

Historical period(s)
mid-18th century
Gilt copper alloy with pigments and turquoise
H x W x D: 55.9 × 39 × 28 cm (22 × 15 3/8 × 11 in)
Central Tibet, Lhasa or Shigatse
Credit Line
The Alice S. Kandell Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Sackler Gallery 26a: The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room
Metalwork, Sculpture


Alice S. Kandell Collection, Buddhism, Shakyamuni Buddha, Tibet
Provenance research underway.

The historical Buddha Shakyamuni (sage of the Lion Clan) lived and taught in northern India from approximately 480 – 400 BCE. Seated Shakyamuni images are characteristically represented with the left hand holding a begging bowl and the right hand lowered in the earth-touching gesture that signifies the moment of enlightenment.

This impressively large and handsome sculpture was most likely made for the altar of a Buddhist temple; it may have been one of a set that represented the Buddhas of different ages. Made from copper alloy that is partly cast and partly repousse, the gilded sculpture has a face freshly painted in the cold-gold technique of Tibet; the other parts of the body not covered by garments (that is, the chest, right arm, left hand and feet) were probably also originally painted in cold-gold. An inset urna (the forehead mark that is one of the thirty-two marks, or lakshanas, of a Buddha) of turquoise and painted hair and features lend further animation to this this friendly and alertly smiling Buddha.

Buddhist altarpieces were refreshed with new pigments within monasteries. Although Tibetan Buddhist bronzes are sometimes repainted when they go on the market, removing the cold-gold and polychromy has been an even more popular method of preparing them for non-Buddhist markets. The iron begging bowl here is probably a replacement, but it is of the right type for an image of this size and date.

Published References
  • Marylin M. Rhie, Robert A.F. Thurman. A Shrine for Tibet: The Alice S. Kandell Collection. New York and London. I-4, 58-59.
Collection Area(s)
South Asian and Himalayan Art
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