This is one of over 30 relief stone images of the Buddha called “Hokyoji stone Buddha images” and represents the sculpture style of the Tang period. Hokyoji Temple used to be located near Einei Gate, the south gate of Changan Castle, during the Ming period in China. At present, there remains only a Sento (brick pagoda) that houses several stone images, which, together with this work, used to constitute a set of over 30 stone images of Buddha. From the inscriptions on the remaining stone images including this one, it was found that these stone images that used to be enshrined in the main hall of Hokyoji Temple had originally been installed in the Shippodai of Kotakuji Temple located in the Kotaku residential quarters on the south of Changan Castle during the Tang Dynasty. The inscriptions also included years, such as 703 - 704 and 724, suggesting that these images were created in the first half of the eighth century.
Kotakuji Temple was built to commemorate the miraculous event of the finding of some of Buddha’s ashes on this site in 677. Wu Zetian (reign: 690 – 705), the only empress in Chinese history, built the Shippodai and placed the stone images in it for decoration.
The Hokyoji stone Buddha images can be broadly divided into two categories: the trinity type and the single deity type. The trinity type has one of the following deities in the center: a seated Tathagata with Goma-in (the fingers making a sign to expel evil), a seated Tathagata with Semui-in (finger sign to make people feel safe) or a seated Tathagata with Semui-in. For the single deity type, a standing eleven-headed Kannon Bodhisattva is used. According to the inscriptions, among the trinity type, the images of the seated Tathagata with Semui-in represent Amitaba Tathagata and those of the sitting Tathagata with Semui-in represent Maitreya. For the images of the seated Tathagata with Goma-in, there are some variations: Some images have a crown on their heads and there are two types of pedestals, shumi-za (square type) and renge-za (lotus type). These characteristics seem to show that they follow the style of Sakyamuni Tathagata that was popular at the time in India.
This stone image is a trinity type comprising a seated Tathagata in the center and one deity on each side of Tathagata. Above them is a canopy with a pair of flying celestial beings in bas-relief on each side. The inscription carved in the rectangular part at the bottom says that this piece was dedicated by the Duke of Kakukoku Yoshikyoku.
Since the inscriptions on other stone images that have a seated deity as a central figure say that the “image of Maitreya” was created, it can be inferred that the central figure of this work also represents Maitreya.