Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
China, Room 44, The T.T. Tsui Gallery

Stele

544 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This limestone carving of the Buddha with two attendant Bodhisattvas is typical in its style of late Wei sculpture. It probably came from north China, from the borders of Shaanxi and Henan provinces. Many Chinese Buddhist images and artefacts were produced during the great period of expansion of the religion in the sixth century AD, and this sculpture is one of the V&A's foremost Buddhist stone carvings. It is inscribed with the date of 544 AD and was paid for by five donors, three of them members of the same family. It probably stood in a public place for passers-by to worship. On the face of the plinth, the long inscription states that the stele was carved as a memorial to one Li Hung-yen. It expresses the donors' faith in the divine light that banishes bodies as if they were dirt. That the great wisdom and understanding of Sakyamuni permeates all things like the scent of orchids. That the stone was 'auspiciously carved' as a palace image so as to compare with that which is beyond compare. That its great beauty springs from the source of inspiration. That the donors offer their praise. It also expresses the wish that through the attainment of divine understanding one should pass into a state of calm and tranquil purity. And, finally, that this sacrifice be as great as those of the past.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved limestone
Brief Description
Buddhist monument of carved stone with standing Sakyamuni (Buddha) flanked by two attendant Bodhisattvas, dated AD 544, Eastern Wei dynasty, Chinese.
Physical Description
The sculpture is carved from a hard dense dark grey limestone. Various imperfections are detectable, particularly brownish marks across the face of the Buddha. The surface is generally pitted except for areas like the hands, faces, plinth where continuous handling has given a glossy surface. It is carved on the front with images of Sakyamuni (Buddha) flanked by two Bodhisattvas in high relief. The central figure of Sakyamuni is over 77cm tall, his right hand raised in the abhaya mudra. His head is carved with a fullness and roundness typical of late Wei sculpture, and his style of dress is also typical for this type of image, the robes falling over the shoulders and down the front of the figure in broad 'stepped' folds, and over the left arm. The bold, deeply carved drapery falls from the arms are typically monumental in concept. The two Bodhisattvas are probably Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara) on the Buddha's right and Ta-shih-qi (Mahasthamaprapta). The now headless figure of Avalokiteshvara holds a lotus bud in his right hand. Both the Bodhisattvas wear the typical style of dress with crossed draperies looping through a ring in the front except that they are looped differently for each. The figure for Mahasthamaprapta is complete but the nose is badly damaged.

The reverse side of the halo was originally covered with engraved designs, of which little remains. The principal image is of a large seated Sakyamuni of which only a portion survives. The two flanking Bodhisattvas are also only partially visible. Towards the top are engraved two small images of seated Buddhas: these represent the Buddhas of past, present and future (Kashyapa, Sakyamuni, Maitreya), the third image is missing due to the break in the stele. The remainder of the reverse is engraved with apsaras, images of donors and decorative motifs. The iconography is based on the Lotus sutra.

The sides of the stele are engraved with a broad floral scroll. The sides of the plinth are engraved with the names of five donors.

On the face of the plinth is a long inscription.
Dimensions
  • Height: 92.5cm
Style
Summary
This limestone carving of the Buddha with two attendant Bodhisattvas is typical in its style of late Wei sculpture. It probably came from north China, from the borders of Shaanxi and Henan provinces. Many Chinese Buddhist images and artefacts were produced during the great period of expansion of the religion in the sixth century AD, and this sculpture is one of the V&A's foremost Buddhist stone carvings. It is inscribed with the date of 544 AD and was paid for by five donors, three of them members of the same family. It probably stood in a public place for passers-by to worship. On the face of the plinth, the long inscription states that the stele was carved as a memorial to one Li Hung-yen. It expresses the donors' faith in the divine light that banishes bodies as if they were dirt. That the great wisdom and understanding of Sakyamuni permeates all things like the scent of orchids. That the stone was 'auspiciously carved' as a palace image so as to compare with that which is beyond compare. That its great beauty springs from the source of inspiration. That the donors offer their praise. It also expresses the wish that through the attainment of divine understanding one should pass into a state of calm and tranquil purity. And, finally, that this sacrifice be as great as those of the past.
Collection
Accession Number
FE.7-1971

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record createdFebruary 9, 2003
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