A Very Rare and Important Painted White Marble Buddhist Votive Stele, Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577)

Probably Quyang-type, Hebei province, of exceptional large size, carved as a bodhisattva shown standing on a demi-lotus pedestal raised on a rectangular plinth from which rises a large petal-form aureole that curves slightly forward at the top, the figure with left arm bent at the side while holding a petal-shaped attribute, wearing a broad necklace, a shawl draped over the shoulders that is knotted above the waist of the sash-tied dhoti, and a long scarf draped over each forearm where it falls in graceful folds as it drapes over the edge of the pedestal, the face carved with serene expression below a tripartite crown tied at the sides with trailing ribbons, the back of the aureole carved in high, rounded relief at its base with a large lotus flower, traces of red, black and dark green pigment. 66 7/8 in. (169.8 cm.) high. Estimate $300,000 - $500,000

北齊 彩繪大理石連背光立佛像

Provenance: C.T. Loo & Co., New York.
Frank Caro, New York, 15 May 1961.

Literature: Hai-Wai Yi-Zhen, Chinese Art in Overseas Collections; Buddhist Sculpture (II), National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1990, p. 81, no. 77. S. Matsubara, Chugoku Bukkyo Chokokushi Ron, vol. 1, Japan, 1995, p. 399 (b).
Sun Di, Zhonguo liu shi hai fo jiao xiang zong he tu mu (Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Statues in Overseas Collections), vol. 4, Beijing, 2005, no. 689.

Exhibited: Exhibition of Chinese Stone Sculptures, New York, C.T. Loo & Co., 1940, no. 21.
Exhibition of Chinese Arts, New York, C.T. Loo & Co., 1 November 1941 - 30 April 1942, no. 933.
The Columbia University Exhibition of Three Thousand Years of the Ceramic Art and Ancient Sculpture of China from the Sackler Collections, Low Memorial Library, Columbia University, New York, 11 November 1962 - 18 January 1963, S-15.
On loan: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 1965 - October 2008, no. L.65.16.1.

Notes: When published in the Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Statues in Overseas Collections, Sun Di noted that the present sculpture is typical of the simplified style of carving in white marble found in Quyang, Zhengding County, Hebei Province. While close stylistic similarties exist with known sculptures from Quyang, it is interesting to note the massive size of the present figure in comparison to other published examples from the region.

Two similar, though more elaborately carved Quyang white marble sculptures of bodhisattvas of substantially smaller size (61 and 31 cm. respectively), are illustrated ibid.. One on p. 688, a figure dated to the first year of wu pin of the Northern Qi (corresponding to 570 AD) which the author notes shows Wei influence; the other on p. 690. The latter can be seen holding in the left hand the same petal-form attribute as the present figure. Also note the similar treatment of the hair and broad V-shaped necklace. See p. 697 for a smaller (40.2 cm.) Northern Qi dynasty Quyang marble sculpture of two bodhisattvas standing atop an elaborately carved plinth. The bodhisattva on the proper left also exhibits closely related treatment of the hair and V-shaped necklace.

Two other white marble sculptures of bodhisattvas of a closely related type, also from Quyang and now preserved in the Palace Museum, are illustrated by S. Matsubara, The Path of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, vol. 2, Tokyo, 1995, pls. 386 and 400 (dated 550 and 560 respectively). Again, much smaller than the present figure (26.5 and 32.3 cm.), the two also bear strong resemblance in the treatment of the hair and necklace. While both figures also hold the same petal-shaped attribute in the left hand, note that the figure illustrated on pl. 386 does so in the same fashion as the present figure, with the index finger and pinky extended.

A third Quyang marble sculpture (54 cm.) of two bodhisattvas atop an elaborate plinth, dated to 562 and also in the Palace Museum, is illustrated ibid., p. 407, where one can again see the similar treatment of the dress and features in the proper right bodhisattva. It is interesting to note that the bodhisattva also holds the attribute in the left hand in the same manner. While this feature seems to occur frequently on sculpture of the Northern Qi dynasty, it can also be seen on two Wei dynasty (386-556) sculptures from the bordering regions of Shandong and Shanxi, illustrated by O. Sirén in Chinese Sculpture From the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, Bangkok, 1998 ed., pls. 162 (in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) and 174A-B (in the Freer Gallery, Washington, and the collection of Yamanaka, respectively). Although the Sirén examples are carved from limestone, and stylisitcally differ dramatically from the present figure, note the incorporation of the petal-form attribute, which may be a late Wei/Northern Qi regional aspect found in sculpture of Hebei and the surrounding areas.

Christie's. Fine Chinese Art From The Arthur M. Sackler Collections. 18 March 2009  New York, Rockefeller Plaza www.christies.com Image Christie's Ltd 2009