15th – 16th century
Amitayus, “Infinite Life”, is the source of a term designating Amitabha, “Infinite Light”, the Buddha of the West. Thus the first texts describing the Pure Land Sukhavati, such as the Amitayurdhana sutra, use one term or the other indifferently to designate the deity.
In Lamaic Buddhism, the name Amitayus designates the aspect of the jina Amitabha. Praying to him can grant a long life, thereby an accumulation of merit and the guarantee of a better reincarnation.
At the court of the Manchu emperors, images of Amitayus were offered as birthday gifts. In 1751, 1761 and 1771, to celebrate the sixty, seventy and eighty years of Dowager Empress Xiaosheng (1693-1777), Emperor Qianlong (reigned 1736-1795) ordered the creation of several statuettes of Amitayus, one of which he presented to his mother (Clark, 1965, p. XII).
Amitayus, as Amitabha, is seated in meditation, his hands in his lap, holding a vessel containing the nectar of immortality.
This work has a double influence. The tiara and arrangement of its jewels are reminiscent of the ancient clichés of Nepalese jewelry. But the draped cloth and “chubbiness” of the face are inherent in Chinese art which became generalized in Tibetan production as of the late 15th century. The statuette is a happy synthesis of these two worlds. The delicately fretted shape of the lotus petals on the base is unusual. It can be found, however, on a statuette of Yama that once was in the Braham Norwick Collection (Béguin, 1977, p. 194, N). 212). A scattering of fine gems lends a precious touch. The elegant treatment of the back and the delicate decoration engraved on the rear of the base are rare elements in the standard Tibetan context.
The face and jewelry are similar to those of an Amitayus conserved at the British Museum (von Schroeder, 1981, p. 440, n° 118 B. Inv. 1958.7-19.1).
· Béguin, Gilles (Dir. Et auteur), Dieux et démons de l’Himâlaya. Paris : R.M.N., 1977
· Von Schroeder, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes. Hong-Kong : Visual Dharma Publications, 1981.
Detail: alternate view