The present figure, posed with one leg pendent and the other crossed with the foot resting on the opposite knee, is seated in the ‘pensive pose’. Unless specifically named in inscriptions, the identity of figures seated in this particular position has been the subject of debate and has traditionally been recognized as either Prince Siddhartha or the bodhisattva Maitreya. A Northern Wei period carving of a princely figure seated in the ‘pensive’ pose was carved in Cave 6 at Yungang, illustrated in Mizuno Seiichi and Nagahiro Toshio, Yun-kang
, Kyoto, 1951-56, vol. 3, pl. 5., and in Junghee Lee, ‘The Origins and Development of the Pensive Bodhisattva Images of Asia’, Artibus Asiae,
vol. 53, no. 3/4, 1993, fig. 12. In this carved stone niche, the central figure is clearly identifiable as Siddartha by his trusted steed Kanthaka at his knee. While in the 4th and 5th centuries the pose was often used to represent Shakyamuni, Maitreya was depicted with crossed ankles. As Lee mentions, in the second quarter of the fifth century to the Sui dynasty, two ‘pensive’ pose figures were often used to balance a triad group, flanking a central cross-ankle figure. Beginning with the Northern Qi, the ‘pensive’ pose was increasingly used as the central figure, ibid
., p. 340-1, and increasingly to represent Maitreya, thus the present figure most likely represents this deity. Often referred to as the Future Buddha, Maitreya is a bodhisattva in the ‘pensive’ pose; in this position he is contemplating his impending final reincarnation and future enlightenment. For further discussion, see the catalogue to the exhibition China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD
, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004, p. 266.
Compare a closely related marble figure of a 'pensive' Maitreya, dated in accordance with 570 from the collection of K. Takenouchi, Tokyo, illustrated in Osvald Sirén, Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, London, 1925, pl. 244b, and included in the exhibition Ancient Chinese Sculpture, Eskenazi, London, 1978, cat. no. 12. Consider as well two closely related figures illustrated in Matsubara Saburō, Chinese Buddhist Sculpture: A study based on bronze and stone statues other than works from cave temples, Tokyo, 1966, pls 146a and 146b, the former bearing a dedicatory inscription with a date corresponding to 564 AD.