The Sui dynasty unified China in 589 after a long period of cultural, political and military disunion, which began with the fall of the Han dynasty in 220 AD. Buddhism was seen as a means to unify the Empire and consolidate dynastic power, hence Sui rulers began the construction of major religious buildings and commissioned Buddhist images. While stylistically Sui sculptures continue in the tradition established in the preceding dynasties, 'characteristics that were latent in the two preceding styles were brought to full blossom by Sui carvers' (Angela F. Howard, Chinese Sculpture, New Haven, 2006, p. 290). Osvald Siren in ‘Chinese Marble Sculptures of the Transition Period’, BMFEA 1940, no. 12, p. 490, states that 'The observation of nature seems indeed to have increased as well as the mastery of the sculptural form'.
Excavations at Qingzhou, in Shandong province, have yielded Northern Qi and Sui limestone figures of bodhisattvas, with full oval faces and crowns carved with intricate diadems, pendent tassels and articulated bands. Two standing bodhisattvas from this group are illustrated in Masterpieces of Buddhist Statuary from Qingzhou City, Beijing, 1999, pp 132-134.
This head also shares similarities with a stone head from the Jingyatang Collection, included in the exhibition The Art of Contemplation – Religious Sculpture from Private Collections, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1997, cat. no. 62, and sold in these rooms, 20th March 2018, lot 204; two standing figures illustrated in Matsubara Saburō, Chūgoku Bukkyō chōkoku shiron [Historical survey of Chinese Buddhist sculpture], Tokyo, 1995, vol. 3, pls 559 and 561; and a figure in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated in Denise Patry Leidy and Donna Strahan, Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven, 2010, fig. A16. See also two standing figures attributed to the Northern Qi dynasty, in the Cincinnati Art Museum, illustrated in Ellen B. Avril, Chinese Art in the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, 1998, pl. 20.
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