A RARE GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A PENSIVE BODHISATTVA, NORTHERN QI DYNASTY | 北齊 鎏金銅半跏思惟佛像
PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
A RARE GILT-BRONZE FIGURE OF A PENSIVE BODHISATTVA
NORTHERN QI DYNASTY
crisply cast seated in rajalilasana, with the right elbow resting on the raised right knee, wearing a long diaphanous dhoti falling in neat pleats and covered with a shawl, the face with a serene expression, the head crowned with a three-leaf diadem with long tassels falling down the sides, the reverse of the head with a loop for the attachment of a mandorla, all supported on a cylindrical base, later fitted gilt cylindrical base and wood stand
The figure 8.2 cm, 3¼ in.
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The figure is crisply cast and richly gilt. It is in overall good condition. There are tiny bruises/nicks to the raised parts of the casting and light wear to the gilding. The figure is later mounted on a gilt base. The attachment loop on the reverse appears to have been stabilised.
Please note: Condition 11 of the Conditions of Business for Buyers (Online Only) is not applicable to this lot.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
Matsubara Saburō, Chūgoku bukkyō chōkoku shiron/The Path of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, Tokyo, 1995, vol. 2, pl. 484a.
The Crucible of Compassion and Wisdom. Special Exhibition Catalogue of the Buddhist Bronzes from the Nitta Group Collection, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1985, pl. 69.
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. It was within this cosmopolitan climate that Buddhist sculpture experienced perhaps its most glorious moment. While in the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), manners of depiction were adapted from traditional South and Central Asian prototypes, in the Northern Qi they had matured and developed into distinctive native styles. However they still emanate the seriousness of strong religious beliefs, which were rooted in the political instability of the mid-6th century, and had not yet moved towards the pleasant and more decorative imagery of the Tang dynasty (618-907).
The iconography of this exquisite gilt-bronze figure, depicted seated with one leg down and the other crossed with the foot resting on the other knee, is known as the ‘pensive pose’. The iconography appeared in Buddhist art from Gandhara, but had its roots in the Classical West, where representations of thinkers and mourners in Greece are depicted with head raised, and finger extended to the face. The identity of figures seated in this particular pose has been the subject of debate and has traditionally been recognised as either Prince Siddhartha (later the Buddha Shakyamuni) or the bodhisattva Maitreya. While in the 4th and 5th centuries this pose was indeed used to represent the former, after 550 it was increasingly used in conjunction with Maitreya worship, see the catalogue to the exhibition China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004, p. 266. A Northern Wei period carving of a princely figure seated in the ‘pensive’ pose was carved in cave 6 at Yungang, illustrated in Mizuno Seiichi and Nagahiro Toshio, Yun-kang, Kyoto, 1951-56, vol. 3, pl. 5, and in Junghee Lee, ‘The Origins and Development of the Pensive Bodhisattva Images of Asia’, Artibus Asiae, vol. 53, no. 3/4, 1993, fig. 12. Often referred to as the Future Buddha, Maitreya is a bodhisattva in the ‘pensive’ pose; in this position he is contemplating his impending final reincarnation and future enlightenment. For further discussion, see the catalogue to the exhibition China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004, p. 266.
A Tang bronze figure of a pensive bodhisattva in the Shanghai Museum is illustrated in Zhongguo Meishu Quanji. Diaosu bian [The complete series on Chinese art. Sculpture], vol. 4: Sui Tang Diaosu [Sculptures from the Sui and Tang dynasties], Beijing, 1988, pl. 55. For an example in stone, see the Northern Qi white marble triad of a pensive bodhisattva flanked by two attendants, dated to 559, sold in our New York rooms, 12th September 2018, lot 6.