Lot 3006
  • 3006


500,000 - 700,000 HKD
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  • ivory
meticulously carved in the form of Sakyamuni Buddha standing on a lotus pedestal against a flame-shaped mandorla atop a splayed four-legged plinth, the deity depicted with the right hand held in abhaya mudra and flanked by his two disciples, Ananda and Kasyapa, the central figure rendered framed by a circular halo with radiating petals and the disciples with flame-shaped mandorlas, all below scrollwork simulating flames to the upper section of the mandorla, the splayed sides and reverse of the plinth incised with a dedicatory inscription dated to the eighth day of the fourth month of the second year of the Huangjian reign (in accordance with 561) and can be translated as 'Buddhist disciple, Lu Luohe patronising a figure for his parents, with the hope of a spiritual union'


Collection of Edward T. Chow (1910-80), thence by descent in the family.

Catalogue Note

This sensitively rendered ivory votive figure of Sakyamuni Buddha, flanked by his disciples Ananda and Kasyapa, was dedicated by a certain Buddhist disciple named Lu Luohe in 561 for the benefit of his parents. Such Northern Qi figures of this size are relatively frequently found in bronze, and in a larger format in stone, but it is extremely rare to find one in ivory, and there does not appear to be any similar recorded example in any museum or private collection. As with ivory figures of previous periods, which closely followed their counterparts in bronze and jade, but are much less likely to have been preserved through the ages due to the perishable nature of ivory, it is likely that there were originally other such figures carved from ivory, but they have been lost over time.

For a Northern Qi votive figure cast from bronze in the Fogg Art Museum, iconographically close to the current figure, depicting Sakyamuni flanked by his disciples, see Saburo Matsubara, Chugoku Bukkyo Choukuku Shi Ron/History of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, Tokyo, 1995, pl. 402a. The structure of the rectangular plinth, iconography of the figures and sensitive naturalistic treatment of the figures is very close to that on the current example. See also a larger representation of Sakyamuni, Ananda and Kasyapa in stone, illustrated ibid., pl. 417a.  

Ivory has been prized as an opulent material used for the finest quality tools and artworks since the dawn of recorded history in China. However, although less easily perishable than wood, early works carved from ivory are much less likely to survive through time as those carved from stone or cast from bronze. The famous Shang dynasty ivory vessel (bei) excavated from the tomb of Fu Hao at Anyang in 1976 is a unique find in terms of its size and quality, but heavily damaged, as ivory readily decays in the tomb. In its form it closely resembles a bronze ritual gu vessel of the period, but has a modified handle. The taotie mask and leiwen scroll decoration also mirrors the casting on bronze vessels of the period.

Clearly, such ivory vessels were made alongside their bronze counterparts, utilising the same repertoire of decorative motifs. However, due to their fragility only a very small number survived. The same holds true for ivory carvings from later periods, including the Warring States period, where the small number of extant examples closely relates to that of jade carving, but exists in far smaller numbers. Surviving examples of ivory from the Northern and Southern Dynasties through to the Tang dynasty are also extremely rare. Those from tombs are almost non-existent, and the only examples that survive in significant numbers are a small number of Tang ivories that were preserved above ground in the royal repository, the Shoso-in in Nara, Japan, which includes dice, plectra, dagger sheaths and hilts, rulers and flutes.