A rare gray limestone head of Buddha, China, Tang Dynasty. Height: 17 in. (43.2 cm). Photo: Sotheby's.

PROVENANCE: Collection of Takenouchi, Tokyo

LITERATURE: Acquired from T. Yanagi, Kyoto, 1982

O. Siren, Chinese Sculpture: From the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, Ernest Benn Ltd. 1925, pl. 466A

NOTE: The present monumental Buddha head, carved from the hard, dark gray limestone generally found in Henan province and associated with Buddhist carvings from the Longmen caves, is a superb example of the Tang monumental style of the early 8th century. Osvald Siren in Chinese Sculpture: From the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century,New York, 1925, pl. 466A, suggests that the head is from the Longmen cave complex: stylistically it conforms with other heads of similar date attributed to the same site and now in public and private collections. For example, see one in the collection of the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Cologne, illustrated in B. von Gunhild Gabbert,Buddhistische Plastik aus China und Japan, Wiesbaden, 1972, pl. 89; two  published in R. L. d’Argence, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1974, pls. 104 and 106; a similar head sold in these rooms, March 24, 1998, lot 502; and a further example depicted in situ published in Longmen liusan diaoxiang ji, Shanghai, 1993, p.104, pl. 41, the main Buddha in the Santa Dong (Three Tower Cave) complex. Compare also a head, from the collection of Mr and Mrs Paul E. Manheim, sold at Christie’s New York, September 17, 2008, lot 375; another, attributed to the beginning of the 8th century, although with a different treatment of the hair but the face closely related to the present example, from the Yamaguchi collection in the Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, Osaka, included in the exhibitionLongmen Caves, Miho Museum, Koka, 2001, cat. no. 30; and a head, from the Morse and Schoenlicht collections and included in the exhibition Spirit and Ritual. The Morse Collection of Ancient Chinese Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1982, cat. no. 57, sold in these rooms, March 24, 1998, lot 502.

Tang period heads from Longmen exhibit characteristics that are identifiable in all the above mentioned examples: meticulously fashioned hair that offsets a fleshy face; elegantly round with full cheeks and a double chin; the eyebrows arched above half-open eye-lids that are carved in easy flowing lines; eyes cast down as if in deep contemplation; a pronounced narrow nose; fleshy full lips pursed in a gentle serene smile; and elongated earlobes that represent Buddha’s divine status. These stylistic traits portray Buddha as a worldly and sensuous being who, at this stage, remains conscious of the human world. The faint smile and half open eyes suggest a connection between the deity and his worshippers, perhaps an expression of his promise of salvation. In fact, the technical prowess of the sculptor is displayed by the creation of a facial expression that varies according to the angle of the viewer. Buddhism by the this time was no longer an exotic import but part of ordinary life and therefore it was natural that sculptures took on a more familiar form compared to those produced in the preceding dynasties which inevitably display a strong Indian influence.

Sotheby's. Footsteps of the Buddha: Masterworks from Across the Buddhist World. New York | 03 sept. 2013 - http://www.sothebys.com