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Buddha head

  • Object:

    Buddha Head

  • Place of origin:

    Hebei (possibly, made)
    Xiangtangshan (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    550-577 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved grey limestone with traces of pigment

  • Credit Line:

    Presented by Art Fund

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Buddhism, Room 47f, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art, case South Wall

Traces of pigment accentuate the eyebrows, eyes and mouth of this huge head. The hairstyle is typical of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, with tight curls and the prominent usnisa or topknot. The mark on the forehead, expressing wisdom and openness, originally incorporated an impressive jewel. Once part of a monumental figure in a cave complex, the head would have looked down from high. Its symmetrical composition and serene expression would have inspired Buddhist followers standing below.

Physical description

Large 3-dimensional rounded face/head of Buddha, fractured at the chin. There is colour visible on his lips, eyes and eyebrows, and his mouth is closed. His eyes look downwards. He has high arched brows, bobbled hair with an ushnisha (bun hairstyle). The eyebrows are curved in a butterfly shape, a Chinese sign of beauty, and the symmetrical composition and serene expression expresses Buddhist ideals - the renunciation of worldly desires and the attainment of enlightenment.

Place of Origin

Hebei (possibly, made)
Xiangtangshan (possibly, made)


550-577 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved grey limestone with traces of pigment


Height: 90 cm, Width: 65 cm, Depth: 40 cm, Weight: 255 kg

Object history note

Loaned to Burlington House Fair Exhibition Sept. 9-20, 1987, Royal Academy of Arts. A similar sculpture is A.27-1914, and there are also similar works at Philadelphia University and Cologne. It would have been part of an entire figure, and displayed high up.

Historical significance: This piece is probably from the Xiangtangshan cave complex in northern China, of which the sculptures were scattered across international collections in the early 20th century. See the website about the project to create a digital reconstruction of what the cave complex would have looked like: http://xiangtangshan.uchicago.edu/introduction/

Descriptive line

Buddha head, carved grey limestone with traces of pigment, probably from Xiangtangshan, Hebei province, China, Northern Qi dynasty, 550-577.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Clarke, John: Arts of Asia, vol. 45, no. 5, September - October 2015, "The Buddha image in Asia: Phase One of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art", p.122, pl. 16.
Clarke, John: Buddhist Sculpture, p. 42
Orientations; vol. 40. no. 4; May 2009; The Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum.

Labels and date

Head of the Buddha
Northern Qi dynasty
Xiangtangshan, Hebei, China
Limestone with traces of coloured pigment
Xiangtangshan is a vast temple complex hewn out
of a mountainside by local rulers. This stone head was
once part of a massive, full-bodied sculpture of the
Buddha. Carved directly into the rock face, it would
have towered above worshippers, inspiring awe and
deep reverence. On the forehead is a hollow that
originally contained an impressive jewel.
Given by The Art Fund
Museum no. A.98-1927 [1/4/2009]
Head of the Buddha
AD 550–577
Northern Qi dynasty
This stone head was once part of a massive full-bodied
sculpture from the Buddhist cave temple complex at
Xiangtangshan in northern China. The figure was carved
directly into the rock face and would have towered above
worshippers inspiring awe and reverence. The idea of
creating giant Buddha images originated in India and
spread through Central Asia inspiring works such as the
Bamiyan Buddhas.
Xiangtangshan, Hebei Province, North China
Limestone with traces of coloured pigment
Given by the Art Fund
Museum no. A.98-1927
北齐 加彩石佛首
(原置河北响堂山) [03/08/2015]

Production Note

This is probably from the Xiangtangshan cave temples in Northern China.






Buddhism; Sculpture; Stoneware


East Asia Collection

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