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Details & Cataloguing

Images of Enlightenment: Devotional Works of Art & Paintings

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AN IMPRESSIVE SANDSTONE STANDING FIGURE OF AVALOKITESHVARA
CHINA, NORTHERN QI DYNASTY, DATED WUPING 7TH YEAR CORRESPONDING TO AD 576  
the slender figure with a slight sway-back posture, the flattened contours of the deity’s loose robes shaped around the body in symmetrical low-relief folds starting at the shoulders and progressing to the feet, the robes falling open at the chest to reveal the diagonal under-tunic, the shoulders draped with loose scarves, the chest richly adorned with a flat necklace suspending large beads and a further garland of beads extending from the shoulders crossing through a medallion at the waist and continuing to the knees with further pendent ribbons hanging from the waist, the rounded face with slender almond-shaped eyes below an evenly arched brow tapering at the ends issuing from a straight nose above full lips and a double chin, framed by long pendulous earlobes and a tall foliate tiara with short beaded ribbons streaming from rounded medallions alternating with teardrop emblems, the truncated hands possibly held in abhaya- and varadamudra, the bare feet standing upon a separate domed-shaped lotus plinth with a cartouche inscribed in kaishu (regular script) with a dedication by Guo Yanshou, dated to the ninth day of the first month in the seventh year of the Wuping period (corresponding to AD 576, Northern Qi dynasty), above a small turtle and flanked by a pair of truncated lions, the grainy grayish stone with a slight pink hue
Height 58 1/4  in., 148 cm.
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Provenance

Yamanaka Co., Kyoto (prior to 1925).
Acquired between the 1950s and 60s.

Exhibited

Kaikan tokubetsu shuppin seihin senshu [A special inaugural exhibition], Kyushu National Museum, Fukuoka, 2005, cat. no. 29.

Literature

Osvald Sirén, Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, London, 1925, pl. 230 A and B.
Matsubara Saburō, Chūgoku bukkyō chōkoku shi kenkyū/Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, Tokyo, 1966, pl. 164 (a)-(c).
Matsubara Saburō, Chūgoku bukkyō chōkoku shiron/The Path of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, Tokyo, 1995, plate vol. 2, pl. 468 a and b.

Catalogue Note

The inscription can be translated:
On the ninth day of the first month in the seventh year of the Wuping period [corresponding to AD 576, Northern Qi dynasty], Buddhist follower Guo Yanshou and family, respectfully made [this] Guanyin figure, so that the Emperor and Kings, honorable monks and parents, all those who are connected to the family, and all living beings in the world of the Law [of Buddha] may attain relief, depart from suffering, and achieve enlightenment, and that all wishes may come true.

This majestic, solemn Avalokiteshvara figure embodies the classic features of Northern Qi Buddhist sculpture. The Northern Qi period (AD 550-577) was one of the most innovative and distinctive periods for the art of stone carving in China – as well as for other art forms – when the sculptors embarked on a departure away from the more elementary, foreign-influenced style practiced during the Northern Wei period (AD 386-534) towards a distinctive Chinese Buddhist imagery. 

The present figure shows the even features and beatific expression characteristic of this period, and the forward-bent body displays the marked curve in profile that makes the solid stone torso come to life. The rich jewelry and ornamentation is represented in a modest fashion that lends gravity and dignity to the deity without veering towards ostentation.

The style of similar figures of the Northern Qi, Northern Zhou (AD 557-581) and Sui period (AD 581-618), from c. AD 550 to 618, but carved of marble, is discussed in Osvald Sirén, ‘Chinese Marble Sculptures of the Transition Period’, Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, no. 12, Stockholm, 1940, pp. 473-496, a period about which the author states, p. 473, “its particular style did not find full expression until the beginning of the 570ies [sic], and its best and most significant creations were produced within little more than a decade, i.e. before 585. After this date the style becomes more schematic, the sculptures lose something of their original beauty and refinement.”

A similar figure from the Shanxi Provincial Museum is illustrated in Matsubara Saburō, Chūgoku bukkyō chōkoku shiron / The Path of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, Tokyo, 1995, plate vol. 2, pl. 476a, attributed to the first half of the Northern Qi period, together with a head-less figure carved in a similar style, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, pl. 476b. Matsubara illustrates the present figure next to an undated figure with pearl strings and ribbons in higher relief from the Rietberg Museum, Zurich, (Matsubara, 1995, op.cit., pl. 468c); that figure is also illustrated in Osvald Sirén, Chinese Sculptures in the von der Heydt Collection, Zurich, 1959, pl. 26, where it is described, p. 92, as “a typical example of Buddhist sculpture which flourished in Southern Shanxi” and where similar statues are mentioned in the Yurin-kan, Kyoto, dated in accordance with AD 576 – perhaps the present figure – and in the National Museum, Stockholm, dated in accordance with AD 570.

Another related Bodhisattva figure, also undated and with higher-relief jewelry and garment folds, from the Mutō and Yamaoka Seibei collections, illustrated in Matsubara, 1995, op.cit., pl. 437, was offered at Sotheby’s London 9th December 1986, lot 32, and at Christie’s New York, 19th September 1996, lot 219; and one acquired in Japan in 1964 was sold in our London rooms, 7th December 1993, lot 34. Compare also an Avalokiteshvara image in the center of a triad in the Palace Museum, Beijing, showing a similar forward stance of the body and low-relief garment folds and jewelry, illustrated in Matsubara, 1995,op.cit., pl. 415a.

Images of Enlightenment: Devotional Works of Art & Paintings

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New York