Maitreya, the “Friendly One,” is the Buddha of the future. He is generally recognizable by two features. The first is the eight-spoked Wheel of the Buddha’s Path— a summary of basic teachings—that appears on the lotus over his right shoulder. The second is a water pot (kalasha), symbolizing purification and renewal of the tradition, that appears on the lotus on his left.
This sculpture of Maitreya has itself been renewed. Maitreya’s face bears a coating of cold gold, a substance used to ritually activate and renew bronze sculptures in the Himalayas. To make cold gold, gold is powdered and mixed with a fixative, usually some sort of glue. It is then painted on devotional figures. Its use here reasserts the capacity for renewal that Maitreya represents.
Finally, note that in the case of this Maitreya sculpture, renewal is construed in both mythical and ritual terms. For just as Maitreya renews the Buddhist tradition on a large, mythical scale, he also appears at the annual New Year ritual in Mongolia, in the form of a sculpture like this one.
(Label from Exhibition Hidden Gold: Mining Its Meaning in Asian Art)