Lot 559
  • 559


120,000 - 180,000 USD
bidding is closed


carved in high relief with a Buddha in the center seated in voluminous robes, Mahasthamaprapta and Avalokiteshvara on either side, each wearing a diadem and draped in robes and sashes, one bodhisattva bearing the cintamani, the other likely a lotus stem, each supported by a blossoming round lotus, and flanked by a pair of guardian lions, all above a rectangular base, the front of which is inscribed with the names of two disciples, Ren Bosun and Wang Mile, Japanese box (3)


Japanese Private Collection, Tokyo, acquired 1920s.

Catalogue Note

This carved stone triad likely represents Amitabha in the center, with bodhisattvas Avalokiteshara and Mahasthamaprapta on either side. Large-scale depictions of the Western Pure Land of Amitabha were featured in Buddhist cave art during this time of political and social unrest in China. The practice of Pure Land Buddhism spread in China during the Northern and Southern dynasties, and the visualization of the Amitabha trinity in Sukhavati was the paramount image of the tradition. A relief of Sukhavati, or the Western Paradise, dated 565 and originally in Cave 2 of southern Xiangtangshan, can now be found at the Freer Sackler Galleries, Washington D.C., acc. no. F1921.2. A relief of Sukhavati can also be found in the caves designed by the Northern Qi monk, Sengzhou, in Anyang, dating to 550-560; and a mural of the Western Paradise can be found in Cave 220 of Dunhuang, dated 642. Steles like the present were used as visualization aides, thus the most expedient paths to enlightenment became popular subject matter for statuary. Northern Zhou stone carved figures are distinguished by characteristics that include stocky and masculine features, and square faces. The hem of a figure’s robe is often carved as voluminous whilst finishing in squared pleats. The present stele's mottled yellow and brown huanghuashi was quarried in Shandong province. Compare a four-sided huanghuashi stele attributed to the Northern Zhou, with both the front and reverse bearing a composition similar to the present example, however lacking the guardian lions, illustrated in Saburo Matsubara, Chinese Buddhist Sculpture: A study based on bronze and stone statues other than works from cave temples. Tokyo, 1966, pls 185 a, b. The Matsubara stele’s reverse has a large-petaled lotus below the seated central figure, and the treatment of the garments and heavy pleats is similar to the present carving. A dated Northern Zhou stele, also illustrated in ibid. pl. 187a, is carved with a similar composition of figures, each with rounded square faces and similarly adorned. The inscription dates the stele to the fifth year of the Baoding reign, corresponding to 564.

A dated Northern Zhou huanghuashi pedestal, with large, blossoming petals similar to the petals in the present stele, was in the collection of Bunkio Matsuki (1867-1940), and is now preserved in the Freer Sackler Galleries, Washington D.C., acc. no. F1909.94. The lions guarding each corner of the base of the Freer pedestal also have fleshy round bodies like the lions of the present stele. The inscription on the Freer pedestal dates it to 573, and identifies that it was made for a Shakyamuni Buddha figure. Another huanghuashi stele worth considering from the Freer Gallery, also from Bunkio Matsuki, is attributed to the Northern Zhou, and features a triad of similar figural composition. The style and modeling of the Buddha’s and bodhisattvas’ clothes are similar to the present example, as are the asana and the mudra of the main figure. In this example, each member of the triad is also raised on a lotus base.