Dated 338 CE
China, Later Zhao dynasty (319 to 351 CE)
Height: 39.4 cm3
Acquisition number: #B60 B1034
The Avery Brundage Collection
Image courtesy of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
An inscription on the back of this small image dates it to the year 338 CE. Though Buddhism is known to have been introduced to China by traders as early as the Later Han period, this small sculpture represents the earliest dated image of the Buddha known to have been made in China. The inscription also mentions by name of Emperor Shi Hu, ruler of the Later Zhao dynasty. The Later Zhao dynasty was founded by a nomadic people known as the Jie, who administered an independent state in the Shanxi-Hebei area of northern China from 319 to 351. This state was but one of a number of kingdoms established in northern China by peoples of non-Chinese origin, a period listed in Chinese historians as Wuhu Shiliu Guo, or "Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarian Peoples."
Though the nomadic peoples of the Central Asian and Mongolian steppes adopted the Buddhist faith earlier than the roving peoples of northern China, the embracing of Buddhism by the Later Zhao dynasty did much to encourage the faith among other nomadic peoples of the northeast. Suitable to a nomadic lifestyle, small icons such as this were created in great quantities for personal devotional use.
The three holes in the front of the statues base once held separately cast attachments. Depending on the identity of this particular Buddha, these attachments may have been flanking deer or lions, or perhaps attending bodhisattvas standing on lotus blossoms, such as seen in the Western Wei period stele also included in this exhibit. On the reverse side is found a metal lug that may have once supported a mandorla (halo).