Lot 203
  • 203


600,000 - 800,000 USD
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  • Stone
  • Height 37 1/2  in., 95.3 cm
the deity standing on an integral circular base and with a petal-shaped mandorla framing the head, the face finely carved with a tranquil expression and delicate features, with slender almond-shaped eyes beneath an evenly arched brow tapering at the end issuing from a straight nose above full lips, framed by long pendulous earlobes and center-parted hair tied in a high chignon secured by a lobed diadem centered by a rosette, the body draped in loose robes and tied sashes, the robes following the contours of the body and cascading in folds, falling open to reveal the diagonal under-tunic and further tied sashes suspended from the waist, the arms bent at the sides with the right hand upturned with the palm facing forward holding a budding lotus stem and the left hand pendent holding an amphora bottle, traces of polychrome pigment and gilt, wood stand (2)


Collection of Fujii Zensuke (1873-1943).
Yurinkan Museum, Kyoto. 


Fo diao zhi mei. Bei chao fojiao shidiao yishu/The Splendour of Buddhist Statuaries. Buddhist Stone Carvings in the Northern Dynasties, National Museum of History, Taipei, 1997, cat. no. 032.


Matsubara Saburō, Chūgoku Bukkyō hokiza shi kenkyū/Chinese Buddhist Sculpture. A study based on bronze and stone statues other than works from cave temples, Tokyo, 1966, pl. 165c.
Bore baoxiang Jingyatang cang Zhongguo foxiang yishu/The Treasures of Chinese Buddhist Sculptures, Taipei, 2016, pp. 76-79, cat. no. 15.


In very good condition. As consistent with sculptures of this period, a few minor old chips and small losses, most visibly to the figure's right toe and to the front of the diadem. Some light refreshing to the nose and eyes, some possible re-carving to the mandorla. Traces of pigment, predominantly green, and gilding throughout.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The Northern Qi dynasty (550-577) was one of the most vibrant periods in the history of Chinese art, both religious and secular, as its openness towards foreigners, their ideas, beliefs and goods, immensely enriched the local cultural climate. Buddhist sculpture experienced perhaps its most glorious moment in this period. While in the Northern Wei period (386-534), manners of depiction had only just been adapted from their south and central Asian prototypes, in the Northern Qi they had matured and developed into native styles. Yet, they still emanate the seriousness of strong religious beliefs and had not yet moved towards the pleasant and more decorative imagery of the Tang dynasty (618-907). The present sculpture is one of the classic bodhisattva images of the period, when sculptors were less interested in rendering the three-dimensional physical side of a deity figure than in capturing its spiritual message through delicate facial features and gestures.  Bodhisattva figures of related type became popular through the patronage of the Northern Wei imperial family, who commissioned the carving of rock caves in Longmen and Gongxian, both in Henan province, in the first quarter of the 6th century, which typically show seated or standing Buddhas flanked by two bodhisattvas. Besides these massive stone carvings in cave temples, many free-standing steles, also often with two such bodhisattva figures on either side of a central Buddha statue, were commissioned in that century, which followed the artistic language introduced by these grand Buddhist cave sculpture projects, which exerted an overwhelming influence on Chinese sculpture of the period in general. 

This majestic figure of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara from the Jingyatang collection stands out because of its fine, even facial features and the attention paid to its elegant, decoratively stylized crown and garment with loose scarves and knotted ribbons. The low-relief carving style and almost complete disregard for the shape of the body under the garments is characteristic of the Northern Qi period. Although many features were introduced to Buddhist stone carving in the preceding Northern and Eastern Wei (534-550) periods, stylistic variants would naturally have been introduced by locally working sculptors. 

Although the present figure fits neatly into the sculptural tradition of the mid-6th century, close comparisons are hard to find. The depiction of the long scarves hanging down in two loose overlapping loops in front of the figure’s knees is particularly unusual. Although bodhisattvas of this period tend to be similarly dressed, the two scarves are mostly crossed near the waist and inserted through a ring-shaped disc. 

Matsubara, who published this bodhisattva figure in his ground-breaking study of Buddhist sculpture in 1966, compares the style to that of a stele with a seated Avalokitesvara figure of the Northern Qi period from Jincheng in Shanxi province, about a hundred miles north of Longmen and Gongxian, see Matsubara Saburō, Chūgoku Bukkyō hokiza shi kenkyū/Chinese Buddhist Sculpture: A Study Based on Bronze and Stone Statues Other Than Works from Cave Temples, Tokyo, 1966, p. 272, fig. 245. 

In its overall shallow relief treatment of the body, with only the hands protruding in higher relief, this figure shows similarities to many bodhisattvas that flank Buddhas at Gongxian, which are depicted with similarly parted hair, rudimentarily indicated under similar crowns decorated with lotus petals and circular jewel-like discs, with a similar mandorla behind the head, and dressed in similar garments, although they differ considerably in detail. Compare, for example, a Northern Wei Bodhisattva figure from the north wall of cave 1 of the Gongxian cave complex, whose garment is draped around the lower legs in more complex folds and whose scarves are crossed through a disc, illustrated in Gongxian shikusi [Cave temples of Gongxian], Beijing, 1963, pl. 69; in Zhongguo shiku. Gongxian shikusi [Chinese caves. Gongxian cave temples], Beijing, 1989, pl. 69 (fig. 1), and p. 209, figs 13-1 to 13-5, where it is compared with related figures from other walls in cave 1 and from other caves; and in Gongxian shiku [Cave temples of Gongxian], Beijing, 2005, p. 24, fig. 36, and p. 33, fig. 55. 

Related bodhisattva figures, with similar crowns and garments, but also with more stylized garment folds, can also be seen at the Longmen caves, for example, on the north wall of the Putai cave, which dates from the Northern Wei period, see Longmen shiku [Longmen caves], Beijing, 1980, pl. 105. 

The sharply delineated features of the face with its narrow, almond-shaped eyes are reminiscent of the large seated Eastern Wei bodhisattva figure in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, illustrated in Osvald Sirén, Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, London, 1925 (reprint Bangkok, 1998), pl. 112 and in Matsubara Saburō, Chūgoku Bukkyō chōkoku shiron [Historical survey of Chinese Buddhist sculpture], Tokyo, 1995, vol. 1, pl. 243; other Eastern Wei steles showing bodhisattvas with related treatment of the garments and crown are published ibid., pls 242, 281b, 282b, 284; and a related free-standing Avalokitesvara figure of the Eastern Wei period, but with more stylized garment folds, in the Tokyo National Museum, is illustrated in Matsubara, op.cit., 1966, pl. 111b.