A white marble Buddhist stele, China, Northern Qi dynasty, dated Tianbao 4th year, corresponding to 553 AD. Photo Sotheby’s
of pointed arched form, carved in high relief with a figure of Guanyin standing between two bodhisattva, beneath a smaller seated figure of Amitabha, flanked by six flying apsara, all below a stupa hung with beaded tassels, against a ground of foliate scrolls, supported on a plinth carved with a censer supported on the back of a strongman, flanked by lions and guardians, the back covered with a dark red pigment above a worn inscription partially reading Tianbao si nian san yue ershi ri (4th year of Tianbao, 3rd month, 20th day), stand (2). Height 19 1/4 in., 49 cm. Estimation 120,000 — 150,000 USD
Provenance: Christie’s London, 7th April 1982, lot 243.
Eskenazi Ltd., London.
Michael B. Weisbrod, 1987.
Collection of Enid Haupt.
Christie’s New York, 21st March 2000, lot 203.
Litterature: Michael B. Weisbrod, Religion and Ritual in Chinese Art, New York, 1987, cat. no. 17.
There is a Chinese folk adage ‘Every house has Amitabha, every family has Guanyin,’ which is meant to indicate how popular Guanyin is among the common folk – second only to Amitabha. In fact, Guanyin actually eclipses Amitabha in the hearts of lay devotees, and the present lot illustrates this. The figure of Guanyin is literally front and center. Amitabha hovers above, but his small size makes him appear far away and distant. The smaller size of the two bodhisattva flanking Guanyin also creates the illusion of depth, making Guanyin appear closer.
Guanyin is first mentioned in the Lotus Sutra, the most important and influential of the Mahayana sutras, where it states that Guanyin can take whatever form necessary, male or female, to bring salvation. The Lotus Sutra started gaining popularity during the Sui dynasty, but even before that, images of Guanyin were already being produced as evidenced by the present lot.
A Northern Qi stele in the collection of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, illustrated in Chinese Art in Overseas Collections, Buddhist Sculpture II, Taipei, 1995, no. 49, has a similar layout to the present lot, with a seated buddha below a stupaflanked by flying apsara hovering above larger figures. Another similar example from the collection of the British Rail Pension Fund was sold in our London rooms, 12th December 1989, lot 31, and a stele with three figures without the stupa hovering above was sold in these rooms, 21st September 2006, lot 129.
Sotheby’s. Images of Enlightenment: Devotional Works of Art and Paintings, New York | 17 sept. 2014, 10:00 AM