Lot 3036
  • 3036


1,200,000 - 1,500,000 HKD
1,125,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • wood Japanese Cypress, scientific name: Chamaecyparis obtusa
  • 37 cm, 14 1/2  in.
sensitively carved in two hollowed sections joined vertically [warihagi zukuri], the rounded face with delicate features portrayed in a meditative expression, gently defined with half open bow-shaped eyes and slit pendulous earlobes, below tightly curled hair covering the domed usnisha, the forehead centred with the urna, the well figured wood bearing a rich reddish brown patina, Japanese wood stand and box

Catalogue Note

Tang dynasty Buddhist iconography brought to Japan by travelling monks exerted a lasting influence on Japanese sculpture, as exemplified by the present figure dated to the late Heian period (794-1185). Two famous Esoteric priests, Kūkai (774-835) and Saichō (767-822) left Japan for China in the early Heian period (794-1185) and besides religious scriptures brought back many objects of religious significance. Kūkai studied Esoteric Buddhism in the capital, Chang’an, and upon returning to Japan founded the Shingon (Chinese zhenyan, ‘true word’) school of Buddhism there. However the later part of the Heian period, also designated as Fujiwara, saw an aspiration towards a simpler approach of Buddhism, re-focusing on the central figure of the Buddha of the West, Amida in Japanese, a denomination derived from the Sanskrit Amithaba. In 1175 the monk Hōnen founded the Jodo ‘Pure Land’ school of Buddhism, parting with the complexity of the esoteric Buddhism which was oriented towards the Tibetan tantric pantheon. This evolution also coincides with period of concord in the society after the seizing of the Emperor’s power by the Aristocratic clans in Kyoto, at first the Fujiwara. The calm and serenity portrayed in the present figure is also well representative of this spiritual evolution in the society.

See Sherman E. Lee, A History of Far Eastern Art, London, 1964, pp. 298-299 for further explanations on the political and spiritual evolution in the Japanese society during the later Heian period and its incidence on the arts.

This particular rendering of Amida is traditionally associated with the great ensemble of Buddhist sculptures completed in 1053 by the celebrated late Heian sculptor Jōchō  (d. 1057) for the phoenix hall in the Byodo-in in Uji and illustrated in ibid. pp. 304-305.

A similar Buddha's head from the late Heian period, donated by Edward W. Forbes to the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University, was included in the exhibition  Japanese Art of the Heian Period (794-1185), Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 2002, accession no. 1954.140. Compare as well a carved wood sculpture of Amida, dated to the first half of the eleventh century, preserved in the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques, Musée Guimet in Paris, inventory no. MA6144. 

See also a late Heian period wood sculpture of Shaka Nyorai, sold at Christie’s New York, 22nd April 2015, lot 9 and another Heian figure of Amida Nyorai, sold at Christie's London, 11th November 2015, lot 68.