Lot 556
  • 556


60,000 - 80,000 USD
bidding is closed


modeled standing before a flame-shaped mandorla on a rounded pedestal base, the bodhisattva dressed in long flowing robes flaring out to the sides, with the right arm raised and holding a lotus stem, the left hand lowered, the head set with a tiara and framed by a circular halo, the larger mandorla decorated with peaked flames extending up to the pointed tip, all supported by a splayed four-legged support inscribed with a dedicatory inscription dated to the first year of the Zhongxing period, corresponding to 531, wood stand, Japanese wood box (4)


Japanese Private Collection, Kansai, prior to World War II.

Catalogue Note

The Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), founded by the Tuoba clan of the Xianbei ethnic group, was from its onset a tumultuous period encompassing Xianbei and Han Chinese traditions. Tuoba Gui (r. 386-409) ruled by employing both Tuoba and Han Chinese officials at court and set a precedent for his successors. The Tuoba were allied with other non-Han northerners and Tibetan groups at the time of Tuoba Gui's rule, and further trade with western neighbors throughout the era ensured that subjects enjoyed a cultural richness reflected in surviving artifacts from the period. The present gilt-bronze figure, dated to the first year of the Zhongxing reign, corresponding to the year 530, was created on the eve of the closing of the Northern Wei period, and carries stylistic elements that represent the contemporary cultural and social changes of its time. The Imperial family of the Northern Wei were famously pious Buddhists. The monumental cave sculptures at Yungang in Shanxi province, and Longmen near Luoyang in Henan province, are towering testimonies to the effort and importance given to the production of Buddhist icons with the aim of attaining spiritual merit. As is commonly seen, the imperial examples influenced the commoners' practices, and many extant sculptures still bear the dedicatory inscriptions of their commissioners, hoping to accrue merit and blessings. The present figure is a clear example, with a dedication naming Avalokiteshvara by name, Guanshiyin, inscribed to the back of its supporting stand. Compare a related figure dated to the third year of Taiping, corresponding to 536 of the Eastern Wei dynasty, only six years after the casting of the present example, illustrated in Rijucho jidai no Kondobutsu (Gilt-bronze Buddhas of the Six Dynasties Period), Izumishi Kubosou Kinen Museum, Izumi, 1991, cat. no. 100. Compare as well a similar figure of Avalokiteshvara in the Freer Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., acc. no. F1909.264, with similar treatment of the flame-like striations to the mandorla, and a similarly proportioned figure, but with ribbons on the crown and more pronounced crossed sashes, dated to the third year of the Shengui period, corresponding to 520, illustrated in Saburo Matsubara, Chinese Buddhist Sculpture: A study based on bronze and stone statues other than works from cave temples, Tokyo, 1966, pl. 47. Both of these figures also bear inscriptions that name Avalokiteshvara by name, Guanshiyin.

The examples cited above, in addition to the present gilt-bronze figure, all exhibit signs of the late Northern Wei sinification, in contrast with those of the early Northern Wei period. The stylistic differences are clearly seen in the rendering of the clothing. Consider a gilt-bronze figure of a standing Buddha, dated 475, now preserved at Shijiazhuang, Hebei Provincial Museum, illustrated in Lin Shuzhong, Zhongguo meishu quanji: Diaosu bian (Complete Series on Chinese Art: Sculpture), vol. 3, Beijing, 1988, pl. 88. The rounded pleats of the robe adhere closely to examples in Gandharan sculpture, as well as the visibility of the body beneath the clinging garment. The present figure, conversely, wears loose, voluminous robes with flowing sashes, hiding the body completely. The robes flow away from the body, angling out into swallow-tail ends and tapering corners. This treatment of the garments is clearly seen in two other Northern Wei gilt-bronze figures now preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated in Denise Patry Leidy, Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven, 2010, cat. nos 7a and 7b, dated 524 and attributed to circa 525-535, respectively, where the garments are described as 'the tail of a fish'.