A monumental Buddha sculpture seated in meditation draws visitors into the Alsdorf Galleries as they enter the Art Institute of Chicago. As one of the more recent icons of the Art Institute, – and due to its size at just over 160 cm – it is always a centre of attraction.
The meditating Buddha was created from a single piece of granite in the late Chola period (c. 855 – 1279). Originally from Tamil Nadu in South India, the Buddha is depicted with lotus-shaped eyes turned downwards, palm placed one on top of the other resting on his lap, and the soles of his feet turned upwards in the half lotus position. He has many of the signs of a great being, such as the elongated earlobes down to his shoulders, the Wheel of the Law mark on his right palm, the tuft of hair between his brows and the cranial protuberance covered with rows of tight snail-shell curls over his head. A five-pointed flame emerges from the top of his head, signifying wisdom.
The Chola period is renowned worldwide for the beauty of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina bronze sculptures produced at this time. There are far fewer Buddha statutes from this period, the Art Institute figure being one of only two similar ones in the United States; the other, a slightly smaller figure, is in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.