8 Must-See Masterpieces to See at the Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum invites you to explore 6,000 years and the diversity of Asian art in a single afternoon. With over 18,000 magnificent artworks — paintings, sculptures, bronzes, ceramics and more — the museum has one of the world’s finest collections of Asian art, including rare objects unlike anything you’ve ever seen. From tiny jades and monumental sculptures to exquisite etchings and impressive armor, you’ll find a panorama of fascinating works, with something to enchant both the discerning art lover and the museum newbie.
Within the museum’s renowned collection, curators have identified several works as masterpieces. Selected for their rarity, beauty, historical significance and cultural impact, among other important attributes, these objects are the jewels of the collection — you won’t often have the chance to see works of their type and quality.
The deity Simhavaktra
This sculpture of Simhavaktra Dakini (“lion-headed sky-walker”) is a guardian. Not only does she guard the secret Tibetan texts known as “treasure” (terma), but she also protects a secret consecration deposit in her muzzle — a bundle of ritual materials that X-rays have revealed are still intact, despite the ravages of time.
Buddha dated 338
This depiction of the Buddha is the earliest dated Buddha sculpture in the world, with an inscription on its base mentioning the year 338. The early date makes it an important historical milestone in the development of Buddhism and Buddhist art in China.
Ewer with lotus-shaped lid
The beauty of the ewer’s refined form and thin and lustrous glaze exemplify the very high aesthetic quality requested by the court and the aristocracy during Korea’s Goryeo dynasty (918–1392). In fact, the outstanding beauty of Goryeo celadon resulted in it being included among the objects that a contemporary Chinese envoy considered “the first under heaven.”
The deities Brahma and Indra
These solemn standing figures from Japan represent the Hindu deities Brahma and Indra (Bonten and Taishakuten in Japanese). Made in the eighth century, they once belonged to Kofukuji, one of the most important Buddhist temples in Nara, Japan. The method used to make them, hollow dry-lacquer, produced portable, lightweight sculptures. Despite its advantages, this technique was used in Japan for only about 100 years. Large scale, hollow dry-lacquer statues like these are rare even in Japan, where most are designated as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.
The Buddha triumphing over Mara
This rare thousand-year-old stone sculpture depicts the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree on the threshold of enlightenment. Finely carved, it captures the most important moment in the Buddha’s life and in the Buddhist belief system. It also bears two important inscriptions, one related to the religious nature of the sculpture and the other to its patron.
Ritual vessel in the shape of a rhinoceros
This bronze rhinoceros is among the most celebrated ancient Chinese bronzes in the world. The vessel is rare for its naturalistic depiction of an animal and its undecorated surface. An inscription inside records an important military campaign launched by the last king of the Shang dynasty, allowing the rhino to be dated to the early 11th century.
The deities Shiva and Parvati
Strong, serene and tender, Shiva and Parvati are represented here as ideal yet accessible deities. Apart from the damage to their limbs, these thousand-year-old Cambodian sculptures survive in excellent condition, and the fact that they remain together makes them rare. Sculpted with remarkable intricacy, these Hindu deities are rendered with a combination of realism and idealization.
Cup with calligraphic inscriptions
The beauty of this small jade cup lies in the elegance of its shape, color and masterful calligraphic decoration. The cup is historically important and rare — it bears the names of two rulers of the Central Asian Timurid and Indian Mughal dynasties. No other known work has these specific royal owner names, and it is one of only two known examples of Timurid white jade objects.
Whether it’s your first visit to the museum or your hundredth, you’ll enjoy spending time with these masterpieces again and again. Linger, and let their intriguing histories and exquisite beauty captivate you. More soon-to-be favorite artwork can be found via searchcollection.asianart.org. Or better yet, visit the museum’s permanent collection and special exhibitions in person - and share a selfie with whatever artwork speaks to you on social media with #MyAAM.