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A stone carving of a Luohan, China, Liao-Jin dynasty or earlier

Lot | Sotheby's

A stone carving of a Luohan, China, Liao-Jin dynasty or earlier. Photo Sotheby’s

portrayed seated in bhadrasana with both feet on the ground, dressed in monk’s robes, holding a bamboo pole, the wizened face with deep wrinkles around the mouth, nose and on the forehead below the prominent cranium, the eyes framed by a furrowed brow and long eyebrows, all below an overhang carved with a leaping mythical beast in mid-stride. Height 35 3/4  in., 91 cm. Estimation 250,000350,000 USD

Provenance: Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
Collection of Dr. Otto Jordan, prior to 1955.
Collection of Ludwig Bretschneider, Munich, 1955.
Collection of F. Brandt, Berlin.
Lempertz, 6th December 2013, lot 119.

Litterature: Osvald Siren, A History of Early Chinese Art, Sculpture, London, 1930, pl. 115B.

A luohan is a perfected being, a disciple of Buddha who has attained enlightenment, but chooses to remain engaged in the world, postponing nirvana, in order to aid all sentient beings. The first portrayals of luohan appear at the beginning of the 6th century in Longmen, a Buddhist cave site near Luoyang. There, they are portrayed as a group listening to Buddha’s teachings. By the Tang dynasty (618-907), they are rendered more as individuals, as illustrated in The Buddha in the Dragon Gate, Catalogue, Antwerp, 2001, ill. 48. The earliest reference to a group of sixteen luohan occurs in the 8th century. These sixteen are believed to be the earliest followers of Buddha. 

According to tradition, the first portraits of the sixteen luohan were painted by Guan Xiu, in 891 AD. These portraits have served as templates for luohan portrayals since the Tang dynasty. These paintings are now lost, but are known today from copies made during the Qianlong period.

In 1757 Qianlong made a visit to the Shengyin Temple near Hangzhou, where he saw the paintings of the luohan in person. He was so moved by them that he had his court artist Ding Guanpeng make copies of them, which Qianlong inscribed, making corrections to the names according to current pronunciations and to the numbering of the position of the luohan.  These were later inscribed on stone plaques by the head abbot of Shengyin Temple. Rubbings of these plaques are preserved in the Rübel Chinese Rubbings Collection at Harvard University.  A jade screen decorated with these same images, but without Qianlong’s amendments to the names and numbering, is illustrated in Nancy Berliner, The Emperor’s Private Paradise, Treasures from the Forbidden City, New Haven, 2010, pl. 49.

The current lot closely resembles luohan number three according to Qianlong’s numbering, whose name is given as Pindola Bharadvaja.  Both the current lot and the rubbing portray a luohan with long eyebrows, weathered, wrinkled face with furrowed brow, protruding cheekbones and a long nose, seated with both feet on the ground holding a bamboo pole. An example of a rubbing of this luohan is included in the Fine Chinese Works of Art sale, 16th and 17th September 2014, lot 540.

Other examples of Song dynasty luohan are illustrated in Osvald Siren, A History of Early Chinese ArtSculpture, London, 1930, pl. 115A, C and D. Liao and Jin dynasty examples are illustrated in Osvald Siren, Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, vol. 4, New York, 1925, pl. 582. 

Sotheby’s. Images of Enlightenment: Devotional Works of Art and Paintings, New York | 17 sept. 2014, 10:00 AM