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Lot 2885, A stone head of a bodhisattva, Tang dynasty. Estimate 900,000 — 1,200,000 HKD (104,216 - 138,954 EUR). Photo Sotheby's.

the slender face handsomely carved with large downcast eyes and defined brows flanking a refined nose above full lips, the thick hair pulled back and piled into a loose chignon behind a simple pointed crown, richly patinated to ochre and reddish-brown tones, mounted on a metal and wood stand - 23 cm, 9 in.

ProvenanceAn old European collection.

Note: This sensitively carved head is a superb example of the carving style of the early Tang dynasty. It exhibits the characteristics that encapsulate the style: meticulously fashioned hair that offsets a face with rounded features, with full cheeks and a fleshy 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, full lips pursed in a gentle serene smile, and elongated earlobes that represent the Bodhisattva's status.

These stylistic traits portray the figure as a worldly and sensuous being, conscious of the human world. The faint smile and half open eyes suggest a connection between the deity and its worshippers, which is perhaps an expression of the promise of salvation. 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 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.

For examples of other Tang stone heads of comparable quality and slender proportions, see four published in Osvald Siren, Chinese Sculpture: From the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, New York, 1925, pl. 465; and other in the Tokyo National Museum, included in the exhibition Chinese Buddhist Stone Sculpture. Veneration of the Sublime, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, Osaka, 1995, cat. no. 64; and a figure with a similar pointed diadem, included in the exhibition China Cultuur Vroeger en Nu, Centrum voor Kunst en Cultuur, Ghent, 1979, cat. no. 313.

Sotheby's. Literati / Curiosity II, Hong Kong, 05 Apr 2016, 10:15 AM