Northern Wei dynasty figures of this type were made to represent the ideal beauty of the time, with stylized facial features characterized by a pronounced narrow and elongated head, with small, neat linear facial features all frequently surmounted by a high crown, further emphasizing the linearity of the sculpture. The result is an ethereal quality, representing the purest form of the ideal of Buddhist spiritual enlightenment.
Many of the comparable sculptures originate from the Longmen cave complex; compare two seated figures of bodhisattvas, both from Longmen and now in Zurich, illustrated in Osvald Sirén, Chinese Sculptures in the von der Heydt Collection, Zurich, 1959, pls 11-2. Compare also three figures from Longmen published in Zhongguo meishu quanji [The complete volumes on Chinese art], vol. 11, Shanghai, 1988, pls 52-4; a related head of a bodhisattva, attributed to Longmen, published in Réne-Yvon Lefebvre d’Argencé (ed.), Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in the Avery Brundage Collection, Tokyo, 1974, pl. 34; and a further example, from the collection of Chu Hsiao-shih, Taipei, included in the exhibition Chinese Buddhist Sculpture from the Wei through the T’ang Dynasties, National Museum of History, Taipei, 1983, cat. no. 9. A similar three-sided crown centered with a floret is seen on a boddhisattva sold in these rooms, 6th November 1981, lot 55. Compare also a head sold in our London rooms, 16th December 1980, lot 435; another, sold at Christie’s New York, 20th March 1997, lot 122; and a third example sold at Christie’s New York, 6th June 1985, lot 529.
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