This Amitayus is particularly rich in its decorative effect. Cast from a mold comprising several sections, its surface is entirely covered with sumptuous gilding and inset with semi-precious stones of various colors. The rich detailing and quality of this large figure is consistent with the image of the Buddha Amitayus, the Buddha of Infinite Light, who radiates wisdom and compassion and is associated with the rites of ensuring long life. He was among the most popular deities from the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon in the 18th century, particularly in the Qianlong period. Emblematic of longevity, large numbers of figures were commissioned in gilt-bronze and porcelain by the Qianlong Emperor for the occasion of the Empress Dowager's 60th and 70th birthdays.
In style, with its broad facial features that converge at the defined nose ridge and full lips with heavy eyelids together with full torso and narrow waist, appear to continue in the Tibetan tradition that grew in popularity from the Ming dynasty. The five-pointed crown with its numerous spacers is a particular characteristic of 13th century Western Tibetan sculptures. Compare a Sino-Tibetan figure of a standing bodhisattva, with similar face and proportioning, heavily-ornamented strands of floral jewelry, and draped in similarly rendered robes, included in the exhibition Buddhist Art from Rehol. Tibetan Buddhist Images and Ritual Objects from the Qing Dynasty Summer Palace at Chengde, The Chang Foundation, Taipei, 1999, cat. no. 16, together with a seated Tara, cat. no. 25.
Gilt-bronze figures such as the present were likely produced for one of the Tibetan Buddhist temples or shrines within the Forbidden City, of which some thirty-five were built, and many more across the empire during the reigns of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns. Images of the Buddha in his various manifestations were produced in vast quantities, filling rooms to create a glistening and extravagant setting for worshippers.
For personal and political reasons, the Qianlong emperor patronized Tibetan Buddhism in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, the Kangxi and Yongzheng emperors. Following Kangxi’s assumption of the protectorate over Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism reached its peak under the Qianlong Emperor. Furthermore, the Manchu Qing ruling class had intermarried with the Mongol tribes and had converted to Tibetan Buddhism and as a result Tibetan politics and religion became inextricably linked at the Qing court. Early in the Kangxi emperor’s reign an office devoted solely to Tibetan Buddhist affairs known as the Office for the Recitation of Sutras was set up in the Zhongzheng Dian, the Hall of Central Uprightness established in 1697. It formed part of the Department of Ceremonial Affairs and was directly supervised by the two officials from the Imperial Household (Neiwufu). Considered the center of all Tibetan Buddhist activities at the Qing court it was from here that under the directives of Ropal Dorje, the preceptor of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong emperors, Tibetan and Mongolian lamas orchestrated all Buddhist activities, commissioning many of the works of art and paintings that were then placed in the numerous temples and shrines (see Patricia Ann Berger, Empire of Emptiness. Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China, Honolulu, 2003, pp. 96-97).