3633
3633
 A RARE CARVED AND GILT LAPIS LAZULI HEART SUTRA
MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
Estimation
600 000800 000
ACCÉDER AU LOT
3633
 A RARE CARVED AND GILT LAPIS LAZULI HEART SUTRA
MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
Estimation
600 000800 000
ACCÉDER AU LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Important Chinese Art

|
Hong Kong

 A RARE CARVED AND GILT LAPIS LAZULI HEART SUTRA
MARK AND PERIOD OF QIANLONG
of square form, one side worked in relief to the centre with a figure of Shakyamuni Buddha seated before a flaming mandorla, surrounded by thirty-four smaller figures of buddhas and flying apsaras, their faces gilt, the reverse incised and filled with gold with the Heart Sutra, accompanied by an inscription dated to the Qianlong gengwu year (in accordance with 1750) followed by two seals reading Qian and Long respectively
6.5 cm, 2 5/8  in.
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Description

This square sutra plaque is made from lazurite with a dark-blue tone and gold flecks. One side of it is carved, as a central icon, with Shakyamuni Buddha dressed in drapery and seated on a pedestal in the meditative lotus pose. The Buddha rests his right hand resting on his right knee and points his right index pointing downwards in the bhumisparsha or “earth-touching” mudra (also known as “evil-subduing” mudra). Around him are myriad other buddhas in different seated poses. The faces of all the buddhas are intricately carved and gold-leaved, creating a solemn atmosphere. On the other side of the plaque, the text of the Heart Sutra is engraved and filled in gold inside a double square frame. It ends with a dated signature reading Qianlong gengwu dong shanghuan yubi (imperially brushed by Qianlong in the first third of the eleventh month of the gengwu year [1750]) and two seal impressions reading respectively Qian and Long.

Also known as lapis lazuli, lazurite is one of the seven treasures of Buddhism. In classical Chinese thought, it was considered a symbol of the utmost authority of Heaven. Lazurite was documented already during the Warring States period in the “Yugong” chapter of the Shangshu, where it is called qiulin. According to this chapter, Yong Province (present-day northwestern China) sent qiulin as a tribute to the court of the Xia Dynasty. The character lin in qiulin, referring originally to beautiful glue and green jade, is part of a common Chinese phrase that describing something dazzlingly beautiful. According to Qing huidian tukao (Illustrated Collected Statues of the Qing Dynasty), the emperor was to wear a lazurite belt as part of his ritual attire for his sacrifices to Heaven because “the colour of lazurite resembles that of Heaven.” Indeed, lazurite was material fitting for the Son of Heaven.  

The Qing emperors promoted Buddhism, adopting the Han Chinese’s syncretism of the three traditions of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. The Qianlong Emperor in particular was an avid student of Buddhism, regarding himself as an incarnation of Manjushri and ordering thangka artists at his court to paint his own visage into their works. Buddhist shrines built by his order were everywhere in the Forbidden City. Every day, Qianlong conducted the Buddhist rituals of burning incense, venerating icons, and chanting sutras.

Copying sutras was a requisite form of Buddhist religious practice for lay believers and clergy alike. Seeking wisdom and insight as rulers, the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong Emperors all found time in their busy schedules to recite and copy sutras. Midian zhulin, a catalogue of Buddhist texts in the Qianlong court, records as many as seven hundred volumes-worth of copies of the Heart Sutra made by the Emperor himself since he ascended the throne in 1735. The Qianlong Emperor also frequently copied the Diamond Sutra, the Infinite Life Sutra, and the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, etc. According to historical documents, in his early years the Qianlong Emperor tended to copy sutras on the first day of the year and on the Buddha’s Birthday (eighth day of the fourth month). After the 40th year of his reign, he copied the Heart Sutra on the first and the 15th day of every month without exception. Among the hundreds of sutra copies that Qianlong made during his lifetime, the majority are of the Heart Sutra.

In October 1978, a group of important Buddhist artefacts was discovered in the underground chamber of the White Pagoda of Miaoying Temple on Fuchengmen neidajie in Beijing. Among them, the Qianlong Emperor’s copy of the Heart Sutra was a highlight. This object was interred in the White Pagoda in 1753 during a repair, although is dated to the gengwu year or 1750. In style and format, the calligraphy on the lot on offer is almost identical to the White Pagoda Heart Sutra. Both appear to be the Qianlong Emperor’s close copies of the renowned Tang-dynasty calligrapher Ouyang Xun’s (557-641) rendition of the same text.

Consisting of only 260 characters, the Heart Sutra is so named because it is a distillation of the 600-volume Prajñāpāramitā Sutra (Perfect of Wisdom Sutra). In this invaluable artefact, the Qianlong Emperor has not only copied the text but also had it engraved on precious lazurite, giving beautiful material form to his religious devotion and his lifelong pursuit of the Bodhisattva ideal of wisdom articulated in the text.

Important Chinese Art

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Hong Kong