Standing Amida Buddha (Amithaba)

14th Century, Kamakura or Nanbokuchō period

Inv. Nr. #22.008

 14th century, Kamakura or Nanbokuchō period.

Stand and mandorla possibly Edo period, 17th c.

Material Gilt-lacquered wood, inlaid crystal eyes, gemstones
Dimensions H 50,5 x W 16,0 x D 15,0 cm (overall)

A guilt-lacquered wood figure of Amida Buddha, standing on a high stand on a double-lotus pedestal in front of an elaborately decorated mandorla with swirling clouds and an abstract open-worked lotus flower highlighting his head. The figure shows a serene facial expression with half-opened eyes made of inlaid crystal eyes with painted pupils looking downwards in front of the figure.

The right arm raised and the left arm extended, both hands are opened with the palm to the viewer while the thumb and forefinger are forming a circle. With this specific hand position (mudrā), known as raigō-in, Amida Buddha is leading and welcoming his faithful believers to his realm, Sukhāvatī (also known as Western Paradise or Pure Land), where they will be reborn in a pond of lotus flowers.

Devotion to Amida was introduced around the 5th century from India to China from where it gradually spread to Japan. Already known in Tendai Buddhism, where the invocation of Amida Buddha’s name rose in popularity throughout the 10th century, the school owns formation in Japan did not take place before the 12th century. Based on the concept of salvation through faith alone, it was the former Tendai monk Hōnen who established 1175 an own Buddhist cult of Amida, called Jōdo-shū or the School of the Pure Land. By doing so, Hōnen parted from the traditional sects whose complex rituals and time-consuming practices laid in the hands of aristocratic elite alone. By making the popular nenbutsu prayer “Namu-Amida-butsu” (meaning: “Homage to Amida Buddha” or “I take refuge in Amida Buddha”) the central act of devotional practice, Hōnen created a simple doctrine of salvation accessible to a broader part of the society that reached its peak in the 14th century but is still popular today.


The standing Amida figure is a magnificent work, showing specific stylistic elements typical for statuary from the 13th and 14th centuries. A very similar figure made of metal can be found for instance in the National Museum of Asian Art (Accession No. F1971.4a-b). Particularly noteworthy is the design of his garment’s folds, which are elegantly flowing down the Buddha’s body wrapping his legs in U-shaped lines. The folds are arranged in a way that they give the illusion of movement to the otherwise strictly still standing Buddha. They are additionally adorned with finely cut gold leaf with auspicious patterns.