Buddhist Art From the Roof of the World

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Prajnaparamita, Tibet, 15th century; Gilt Bronze, 13 3/4 In. High
Buddhist Art From the Roof of the World
Curated by: Julia M. White

2155 Center Street
94720 Berkeley

July 27th, 2016 - November 27th, 2016

Other (outside areas listed)
Wednesday–Sunday, 11am–7pm
University of California Berkeley
traditional, sculpture
$12 general admission; $10 non-Berkeley students, disabled, 65+; Free BAMPFA members, UC Berkeley students, faculty, staff, and retirees, 18 & under + one adult


Artists from India, Tibet, and Nepal have for centuries created sculptures and paintings as a window into a divine Buddhist reality. Buddhist Art from the Roof of the World explores the spiritual meaning of over thirty exceptional works, highlighting their role within the Buddhist doctrine. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a rare fourteenth-century monumental gilt-bronze Buddha from Tibet seated in the posture of meditation; with the right hand touching the earth, the sculpture manifests the moment of enlightenment. Other sculptures and paintings from the region depict a multitude of sublime deities, some fierce and others calming, but all intended to lead the viewer closer to perfect knowledge of the universe through the teachings of wisdom and compassion.

Vairochana, the central figure among the supreme Cosmic Buddhas, is represented here in a masterpiece from the twelfth century depicting the seated central image as a multifaced, crowned deity. The large scale of the painting, its remarkable condition, and its layers of meaning convey deep mysteries of early Tibetan Buddhism. Orange-red henna, a mark of beauty, decorates the palms of the Buddha’s hands and soles of his feet, as is traditional in Indian paintings of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.

Cosmic Buddhas also appear in three-dimensional sculptural form such as the large- scale golden image of Amitayus from eighteenth-century Nepal. In addition to his bejeweled body and elaborate crown, the deity holds a vase said to contain the elixir of life in his folded hands, confirming his role as the deity of longevity.

Himalayan Buddhists also recognize a broad spectrum of Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who have essentially realized perfect wisdom but who remain on earth to assist in the transformation of others. A regal image of the Bodhisattva Prajnaparamita defines the calm path towards enlightenment.

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