J.J. Lally & Co., Oriental Art / New York City, New York


Past Exhibition

Buddhist Sculpture from Ancient China

March 10-31, 2017


From the Yungang Buddhist Cave-Temples, Shanxi
Northern Wei Dynasty, circa 465-494

carved in three-quarter relief, the wise layman shown with confident expression, his eyes narrowed in a steady gaze beneath incised eyebrows, his lips pursed in a gentle smile, wearing a close-fitting headdress painted in red, the hairline and the close-cropped beard ending in a goatee painted in black, the surface of the face weathered to pale tan color with traces of pigment remaining on the eyes and lips.

Height 14 inches (35.5 cm)

From the Collection of Edgar Worch (1880-1972)
From the Trubner Family Collection
On loan at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1949-2016)

Sirén, Osvald. Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, London, 1925, Vol. II, Plate 21-A
Mizuno, Seiichi and Nagahiro, Toshio. Yün-kang, the Buddhist Cave-Temples of the Fifth Century A.D. in North China, Kyoto, 1952-1956, Vol. I (text), fig. 10, photograph taken by H. Iwata in the early Taishō period (circa 1915)

The present sandstone head comes from the east niche of the south wall of Cave I in the Yungang Buddhist Cave-Temples. In photographs taken early in the 20th century by Sirén and Iwata, the figure of Vimalakirti (維摩 Weimo) is seen at the center of the niche, turning slightly to his left in conversation with Manjusri (文殊 Wenshu), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom.

The story of the Bodhisattva Manjusri visiting Vimalakirti derives from a chapter in the Vimalakīrti-nirdeśa sutra (維摩經), written in India circa A.D. 150 for teaching of the Dharma. The sutra was first translated into Chinese in the 3rd century, but the most influential version was the translation by Kumārajīva (鳩摩羅什, 344-413), a monk-scholar from the Kucha kingdom in Central Asia.

The imagery of Vimalakirti successfully debating with Manjusri appears in murals and carved reliefs in the Buddhist cave-temples at Dunhuang, Yungang, and Longmen. Compare, for example, the sandstone niche carvings of Vimalakirti at the Yungang grottoes, Caves VI and VII, illustrated by Mizuno in “Archaeological Survey of the Yün-kang Grottoes,” Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America, Vol. 4, 1950, p. 54, figs. 16 and 17.

北魏 雲岡石窟 第一窟前壁入口東側 彩繪維摩頭像 高35.5厘米

Edgar Worch (1880-1972) 舊藏

Sirén, Osvald. Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, 倫敦 1925 年 第二卷插圖 21-A
水野清一、長広敏雄 雲岡石窟:西曆五世紀における中國北部佛教窟院の考古學的調查報告 京都 1952-1956 年 第一卷 (文版) fig. 10 大正初年岩田秀則氏攝影