11 juillet 2020

A finely carved white marble standing figure of a monk, probably Ananda, Tang dynasty (618-907)

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Lot 104. A finely carved white marble standing figure of a monk, probably Ananda, Tang dynasty (618-907); 54 cm, 21 1/4  inEstimate 900,000 — 1,200,000 HKDLot sold 1,500,000 HKD.  Courtesy Sotheby's.

sensuously carved standing on a facetted lotus pedestal with the feet pointing outwards, the hands depicted gently clasped before the subtly rounded waist with one hand over the other, superbly portrayed dressed in loose voluminous robes opening at the chest, draped over the left arm and softly cascading in pleated folds around the partially exposed feet, traces of gilding and pigment.

Provenance: Collection of Osvald Sirén (1879-1966), Stockholm, by repute.
S.H. Hoo, New York, 1963.
Collection of Fong Chow (1923-2012), curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Christie's New York, 24th March 2011, lot 1303.
Eskenazi, London.

Exhibited: Chinese Sculpture c. 500-1500, Eskenazi, London, 2014, cat. no. 13. 

Note: This sensuously carved marble torso, which appears to represent the young monk Ananda, is a legacy of the high period of the Tang dynasty, when China’s sculptural tradition reached its most mature phase. The modelling of the youthful male is articulated with vivid realism, the dignified standing figure endowed with the uttermost spirituality.

In contrast to the more sinicised treatment of the human form in the Northern Qi and Sui dynasties, carving of the Tang dynasty exhibits a deep level of influence from the artistic style of the Indian Gupta Empire, embued with resonances of the Hellenistic tradition.

Images of monks first appeared in Buddhist art in sculptures created in Gandhara from the 2nd to 3rd century, represented as subsidiary figures on the bases of statues of Buddha. By the 6th century, Chinese Buddhist sculptures depicted pairs of monks as part of larger assemblages that included a Buddha. One of the monks is traditionally depicted as youthful and the other elderly, and they are understood to be representations of Ananda and Kashyapa flanking images of the Buddha. The figure would originally have been part of a large group centred on a Buddha surrounded by bodhisattvas and guardians, or on a triad such as one at Foguang Si in Shanxi, illustrated in Zhongguo meishu quanji. Diaosu bian [The complete series on Chinese art. Sculpture], vol. 4, Beijing, 1988, pl. 48.

Similar iconography to the current figure can be seen on a Tang dynasty limestone sculpture, also identified as Ananda, donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York by A.W. Bahr in 1952. It is published in Denise Patry Leidy and Donna Strahan, Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven, 2010, cat. no. 18, where the authors argue that the style of clothing on the monk date it to the 8th century. The naturalistic treatment of the robes on the Metropolitan figure is extremely close to that on the current sculpture. The iconography of the hands of the Metropolitan Museum example is also very close, similarly depicted clasped flat to his stomach, left over right with interlocking thumbs, differing only in that the figure is depicted holding an obscure object, possibly a lotus bud or an offering wrapped in a red cloth.

For another Tang stone monk of larger size, see one in the Beilin Museum, illustrated in Shaanxi Provincial Museum, ed., Shaanxi sheng bowuguan cang shike xuanji [Selected sculptures from the Shaanxi Provincial Museum], Beijing, 1957, p. 52, no. 49; and two other examples illustrated in Osvald Sirén, Chinese Sculpture from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century, vol. II, Bangkok, 1998 ed., pls 371B and 374. A similar figure, dated to the Sui dynasty, from the Nelson-Atkins Gallery of Art, is illustrated in Hai-wai yi-chen / Chinese Art in Overseas Collections: Buddhist Sculpture II, Taipei, 1990, pl. 95.

Sotheby's. Monochrome, Hong Kong, 11 July 2020


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