Following the video about the Buddha head with a fragmentary halo, here is more about halos in early Chinese Buddhist sculpture, and the origins of the halo in religious art.
A look at a beautiful Chinese, Northern Wei head of a Bodhisattva and its beatific and enigmatic smile, with references to other cultures and periods, including our own. The slight smile is seen in the art of many human cultures, and signifies secret knowledge and wisdom, as well as the peace that comes from that.
People coming into the gallery often comment on the feeling they get from the Buddhist sculptures, and in fact that was the purpose of this art. This brings us to a paradox of Buddhist images, for originally Buddhism was aniconic, focused on the disciplines of meditation and release from the material world. How were these images explained in Buddhism, and what role did they serve? These are the questions we ask in this video, which will be one of a series. We pull in pop culture references to help illustrate the power that these images are meant to contain.
I was just in NYC earlier this week, to preview the Ellsworth Collection sale at Christie’s and see Asia Week. On view in different galleries, mostly on the Upper East Side, are a range of dealers, from Europe as well as New York and America, covering the full gamut of Asian art, from ancient to contemporary, and from Japan, Korea to Indian and Southeast Asian, and of course Chinese. I focus on the few dealers who handle ancient art. One of them was exhibiting at Friedman Vallois, on East 67th Street and Madison Avenue, from Milan, Dalton Somare. I am not familiar with them, but was very impressed with what they had on view, see below. Gandharan Head of a Buddha Prominently featured and very well displayed was this immense colossal head of a Buddha, Gandharan, from India, 2nd to 3rd Century A.D. Carved of grey schist, it is 68 cm tall, about 27 inches. A fragment from a larger sculpture, possibly a composite sculpture, it is a very imposing head. And beautiful. side […]
Robert Ellsworth was a pioneering dealer of Chinese and Asian art in New York from the 1960’s into the 1990’s. I unfortunately never got to know him, I did meet him briefly at an art fair, and was impressed by his emerald green jade set in a high karat gold ring. I was told by a friend who would know, that the jade was of such fine color and quality that it was worth 2 million, and this was in the 1990’s! I never got to see his apartment, which was legendary, large and on Fifth Avenue, full of fine antique American and Chinese furniture and of course, Asian antiquities. When he died last year, the extensive obituaries lauded his taste and importance as a dealer in early Asian art, and his social connections. Christie’s got his estate to sell, and did so just this week, in a series of 6 sales over 5 days, the last day being today as I write this. The sale has been eagerly anticipated by myself and everyone involved […]
I recently acquired the exceptional Chinese Northern Qi head of a Crowned Bodhisattva, seen in the images below. It is large, just over life sized, intact as far as the head itself goes, with only a bit of the top of the crown missing and the side ribbons. In addition to being relatively intact the surfaces are very well preserved with extensive remains of the gold leaf preserved along with polychromy. The lips preserve their original carmine red, and bits of color remain on the crown. It is a magnificent head, really majestic. However the reason the head is compelling to me is that it is of a type known from other versions, which is a rarity in Chinese Buddhist sculptures of this time. While all are similar, no two are the same in their details, except for this particular type. Head of a Bodhisattva, Limestone, Height: 15 inches Head of a Bodhisattva wearing a crown. China, Northern Qi Dynasty, 550 – 577 A.D. Side view of Head of a Bodhisattva, Limestone, Height: 15 inches. […]
Jade belt buckle, China, Han Dynasty, Length: 3 1/8 inches. I recently purchased two exceptional jade belt pieces, which feature monster faces straight from your worst night mares. Incredible quality, beautifully carved with incised surface decoration, they represent the best of Chinese archaic jade carving. While the leading expert dates them the the Yuan, Ming period, 14th to 16th Century, another scholar, and myself, see them as Han Dynasty, somewhere before 0 B.C., or just after. The Han Dynasty lasted for 400 years, from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. with an interregnum at about from 9 to 23 A.D. when a regent took power as emperor, Wang Mang. Later jades, just do not have the quality and intensity you find in Archaic jades, which era ends with the Han Dynasty. On the surface of both are incised lines of a type you find starting in the Eastern Chou through the Han Dynasty, but not after. So to my mind, these are Han Dynasty. Jade belt buckle, China, Han Dynasty, Length: 3 inches. While apotropaic, intended […]
Dear Reader, This will be my first post here about what has become a new passion of mine, early Chinese Buddhist Sculpture dating from the Wei to the Tang Dynasties, from about 400 to 900 A.D.. I have always admired examples when I came across them, but not knowing that much about the period and type, paid them little mind other than that. My first encounter with one of these sculptures was at Harvard, a 6th Century A.D. marble bodhisattva, see below, which I found beautiful not only for its quality of carving and elegant style, but remarkable for its preservation as it had extensive color and gilding remaining. Standing BodhisattvaChinese, 6th Century A.D.White marble with polychromy, Height: 36 1/2 inches.Harvard Art Museums Harvard, thanks largely to the Grenville Winthrop bequest, and more recently the Sackler gifts, has a wonderful collection of ancient Chinese art, with many fine examples of early Buddhist sculpture. But I went on for most of my life looking at, and dealing in Classical antiquities; the art of Ancient Greece, Rome […]
Dear Reader,Following up on the last post about Chinese Buddhist Sculpture and Fakes, I am now going into the purpose and function of these beautiful works of art.As many of my readers are aware, but some may not be, Buddhism believes that the world is illusion and the source of suffering, that desire is the cause of pain, and to transcend the world and escape from the world is the highest good. Buddha, through meditation and his middle path, arrived at through years of different practices, attained nirvana, the state of full release from this world. Such an unworldly religion would seem to be antithetical to the creation of art, and for the first few centuries it was aniconic, with no images of the Buddha per se, his presence was represented by a footprint, the wheel of Dharma, the Bodhi Tree under which he attained enlightenment, and an empty throne. It was only in the Gandhara, which was influenced by Greece and Rome as Alexander the Great had gotten that far into India and ties […]
I usually post about places I go and what I see, however, I do buy objects from time to time, and am going to post about them as well, when so moved. I am moved at the moment by one of my latest purchases, a small white jade carving of a bear with pendulous human breasts. While a strange subject, the carving is compelling, it is an intense concentrated work of art. Standing just under two inches (48 mm) high, it is quite small, but incredibly finely carved with great attention to detail. The fur ruffs on the limbs and edge of jaw are incised with fine lines, the teeth are individually carved and even the tongue is freed, reaching from the bottom of the mouth to touch the palate in a fierce open expression. Most strange are the breasts, which are pushed together between its paws, as if being presented. Interestingly the piece is drilled through from the top of the head through its bottom, and may have been worn as a bead or […]
One of a pair of spectacular handles from a tomb. Bronze, inlaid with silver and gold, these date to the Eastern Chou Period, ca. 500-700 B.C. Apr. 10 inches in total length. Chystian Deydier, Paris. Unfortunately at many of the exhibitions of Asia Week, I was not allowed to take my own photographs, and nowhere on the web were others available. This was one of the only ones I could crib from the web, a detail of a pair of beautiful pull handles from the Eastern Chou Dynasty. Probably from the ends of a lacquered wood coffin, this is of bronze inlaid with silver and gold, and of beautiful design. At his boot in the Asian Fair, no longer at the Armory on 67th and Park, this year it was held at a church at 583 Park Ave. Strange quarters for this type of fair, Christian Deydier’s booth made up for the oddness with some spectacular objects. My favorite of his offerings was a bronze mirror with a back inlaid with gold and silver in […]