An exceedingly rare Qingbai seated figure of a bodhisattva, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). Estimate HK$6,000,000 – HK$8,000,000 ($777,422 – $1,036,562). Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2014
The figure is modelled with the upper body gently leaning forward, seated with legs crossed and arms folded under a voluminous robe. The garment is worn in folds falling loosely across the broad shoulders, exposing a bare torso embellished with bejewelled jewellery chains. The slightly downturned head crowned with a floral diadem above pendulous ears framing naturalistically carved facial features providing a serene expression. One hand is raised in front of the chest in vitarka mudra, gesture of teaching, and the other is placed downturned above the right knee. Covered with a characteristic pale blue glaze, pooling in recesses. The flat base is unglazed. 12 1/2 in. (32 cm.) high, wood stand, box
COMPASSIONATE INSTRUCTION – A RARE QINGBAI-GLAZED FIGURE OF A BODHISATTVA
ROSEMARY SCOTT, INTERNATIONAL ACADEMIC DIRECTOR ASIAN ART
This graceful bodhisattva emanates serenity, and has a compassionate, but commanding, presence. The figure sits cross-legged, with the left arm bent at the elbow and the hand raised to chest height. The tip of one finger touches the tip of the thumb, forming a circle, in a gesture known as vitarkamudra – the gesture of discussion, which is associated with a bodhisattva explaining the teachings of the Buddha. A bodhisattva is a being who seeks bodhi (awakening) and is on the path to becoming a Buddha. While in Mahayanist Buddhism there are bodhisattvas at various stages along this path, this figure is undoubtedly intended to represent one of the ‘celestial’ bodhisattvas who have great wisdom, compassion and miraculous powers. It is the compassion of such bodhisattvas that leads them to endeavour to guide ordinary beings towards enlightenment. This bodhisattva figure inclines very slightly forward, as if to give reassurance to the believer who is being instructed. The face has a gentle expression, with the eyes downcast and the mouth forming a tender smile.
Yuan dynasty Buddhist figures made in porcelain and covered with a qingbai glaze, developed from the tradition of finely-modelled religious figures made at the Jingdezhen kilns during the Southern Song period (1127-1279). There is a very small extant group of these Song figures in international collections. Inscriptions and the date of tombs in which these figures have been found suggest that they were made in the second and third quarters of the 13th century – just prior to the Mongol conquest. The majority of the extant figures of this type have been discovered in the south of China, within territory controlled by the Southern Song, however at least one has been found in the north, in Jin dynasty (1115-1234) territory, and suggests that the figure was regarded as valuable enough to warrant being taken hundreds of miles into lands controlled by the Jurchen.
A seated Guanyin, which was only partly glazed – as is usual in the case of these Song dynasty figures, is now in the Shanghai Museum (1). This figure, which has glaze on the edge of her outer robe and a little pigment adhering to the unglazed areas, bears an inscription dating it to the 11th year of the Shunyou reign of the Southern Song dynasty, equivalent to AD 1251. Another seated Guanyin with outer robes and rocky pedestal covered in qingbai glaze, but with other areas biscuit fired, was excavated in 1978 from a Song dynasty well in Changzhou City, Jiangsu province and is now in the Changzhou Museum (2). These figures are seated with both legs pendent. Another Guanyin figure from the end of the Southern Song period was excavated in the early 1980s in Quzhou, Zhejiang, from the tomb of Shi Shengzu, dated to the 10th year of the Southern Song Xianshun reign (AD 1274). Although this latter figure is somewhat damaged it is clear that the rocky pedestal on which it sits is covered with qingbai glaze, while the bodhisattva herself is biscuit fired and would have been cold painted. In view of the popularity of this pose in the Yuan period, it is interesting to note that this bodhisattva appears to have been seated in Maharaja lilasana with one leg pendent and the other raised to allow her arms to rest on the raised knee (3). Two Southern Song figures, which are seated cross-legged, are also known. These are a partly glazed figure of Guanyin, which was found in 1964 in the foundations of a Jin dynasty pagoda at Fengtai, Beijing. This figure is now preserved in the Capital Museum, Beijing (4). The other cross-legged Guanyin, which is so similar to the Fengtai figure that it may have been made using the same mould was sold by Christie’s Hong Kong in June 2011, lot 3726 (fig. 1). In the case of all these figures, and those of the Yuan dynasty, the basic form was moulded and then the details were hand finished, after which the intricate appliques were put in place to create features such as tendrils of hair, scarves, and elaborate jewellery.
An exceptionally rare Qingbai seated figure of Guanyin, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279). Price Realized HK$25,300,000 ($3,267,338). Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2011
While the Southern Song figures are all only partly glazed, this is not usually the case in the Yuan dynasty, when the figures are generally fully glazed, as in the case of the current figure. However, in a small number of instances, lacquer replaced cold painting on partially-glazed qingbai Buddhist figures. This can be seen on a seated, qingbai glazed, figure of the Buddha Amitabha is in the collection of the Beijing Art Museum (5). This figure, dated to the Yuan dynasty, has robes, which are partially lacquered, apparently over areas of the porcelain left free of glaze. Gilded designs, representing the patterns on the robe are painted on the lacquered areas. The partial glazing of a similar Yuan dynasty seated qingbai Buddha in the collection of the Shanghai Museum (6), suggests that it too would originally have had lacquer applied to the unglazed parts of its robe. The lacquer seems to have adhered rather tenuously to the porcelain and was very susceptible to damage, which would explain why none can now be seen on the Shanghai figure. These figures are 51 cm. and 41.3 cm. in height, respectively – somewhat larger than the extant Southern Song figures. A Yuan dynasty seated Guanyin in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, dated by inscription to AD 1298 or 1299, is 51.4 cm. tall, and is fully glazed except for the figure’s underskirt, which has been left unglazed, possibly to allow better adhesion of cold painting (7) (fig. 2).
Guanyin Bodhisattva, ca. 1298, Chinese, Ying-ch’ing ware (glazed porcelain), 20 1/4 x 12 x 7 3/4 inches (51.44 x 30.48 x 19.69 cm). Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.
The majority of the Yuan dynasty figures are both fully glazed and, like the three figures discussed above, are sometimes notably larger than the Southern Song figures. The famous qingbai glazed Yuan dynasty Bodhisattva seated in Maharaja lilasana, which was excavated in 1955 from Dingfu Street in the western suburbs of Beijing, is 67 cm. tall. This figure is now in the Capital Museum, Beijing (8). Another qingbai glazed seated Bodhisattva in the collection of the Rietberg Museum, Zurich, is 52. cm. tall (9), and the Yuan dynasty qingbai glazed seated bodhisattva in the Metropolitan Museum, New York is 50.8 cm. tall (10). A bodhisatta in the collection of Mr. Alan Chuang is notable for its particularly fine jewellery and also its size – it is 67 cm. high. The appearance of larger figures in the Yuan dynasty towards the end of the 13th century can be explained not only by changing tastes, but also by changes in technology, specifically to the porcelain body material used at Jingdezhen. The new body material contained more kaolin and thus more alumina, which facilitated the production of larger figures, and indeed vessels. However a number of extant Yuan dynasty figures are only slightly larger than their Southern Song counterparts, and a particularly graceful Yuan dynasty Guanyin in the collection of C.P. Lin (11) is of similar height to the current figure, while a Yuan Guanyin in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (12) is slightly smaller than the current figure.
The Victoria and Albert Museum figure of Guanyin shares with the current figure the net-like beaded apron or over-skirt that hangs from just below the waist, as does the C.P. Lin Guanyin, and the Guanyin from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Chuang Guanyin, and the excavated Guangyin in the Capital Museum, Beijing. The necklaces which adorn the chest of the current figure share similarities of construction with those on the Nelson-Atkins Guanyin and the C.P. Lin Guanyin, while similar bracelets with pyramid-shaped decoration, of the type which encircle the upper arms of the current figure, can also be seen on the Nelson-Atkins figure. The bracelet on the current figure’s wrists are of similar construction to those on the C.P. Lin figure. Being hand-finished, the faces of all these figures are individual, but perhaps the face of the current bodhisattva is closest to that of the Nelson-Atkins Guanyin – both characterised by serenity and compassion.
(1) Illustrated in Zhongguo taoci quanji 16 Song Yuan Qingbaici, Shanghai, 1984, no. 76.
(2) Illustrated in Gems of China’s Cultural Relics, Beijing, 1997, no. 16.
(3) Illustrated in Dynastic Renaissance – Art and Culture of the Southern Song, Antiquities, Taipei, 2010, pp. 210-11, no. III-79.
(4) Illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua quanji – taoci juan, Taipei, 1993, p. 290, no. 405.
(5) Illustrated in Treasures from Ancient Beijing, New York, 2000, p. 16, no. 7, and cover.
(6) Illustrated in Shanghai Museum, Hong Kong, 2007, p. 81, no. 96.
(7) Illustrated by Sherman E. Lee and Wai-kam Ho in Chinese Art Under the Mongols: The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), Cleveland, 1968, no. 26.
(8) Illustrated in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua quanji – taoci juan, op. cit., p. 353, no. 618.
(9) Illustrated ibid., no. 25.
(10) Illustrated by S. G. Valenstein in A Handbook of Chinese Ceramics, New York, 1975, p. 127, no. 120.
(11) Illustrated by Rosemary Scott in Elegant Form and Harmonious Decoration – Four Dynasties of Jingdezhen Porcelain,London, 1992, p. 20, no. 4.
(12) Illustrated by Stacey Pierson (ed.) in Qingbai Ware: Chinese Porcelain of the Song and Yuan Dynasties, London, 2002, pp. 216-7, no. 121.
PROPERTY FROM THE YIQINGGE COLLECTION
CHRISTIE’S. IMPORTANT CHINESE CERAMICS AND WORKS OF ART, 26 November 2014,Convention Hall