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Sydney L. Moss Ltd

Three Chinese gessoed wood sculptures of Buddhist bodhisattvas,
seated life-size, with Kuan-yin at their centre

Chin dynasty (1115 - 1260), circa 1180
Height: about one metre each;
between 37½ and 39½ inches (95 and 100cm.)

These rare temple sculptures are of Northern Chinese provenance, although their features betray a Sung dynasty and Southern influence, with their broad foreheads. Earlier, C10th - C11th facial conventions, though, favoured a squared jaw as well as a broad brow. The features in the case of this triad are of k’ua-tzu (“melon-seed”) type, with square forehead but narrow jaw; in combination with the height and elaboration of the crowns, as well as the patterning of the braided hair, they indicate a relatively early post-Sung date, late in the C12th. Furthermore, the sash tied by the left shoulder, which covers the belly and continues with a flourish, is a deliberate and by no means incidental Chin characteristic. As soon as the Yüan invaders established their rule in the mid-C13th, the unmistakable Nepalese sculptural style replaced the Sung-Chin manner.

Our supposition was that the three sculptures represented the San Ta Shih, the Three Great Beings, a Chin-Yüan dynasty Buddhist cult centred around Wu-t’ai shan, in Shensi province, an identification which would propose the flanking bodhisattvas as Wen-shu (Manjusri) and P’u-hsien (Samantabhadra), although without their typical animal mounts. However, according to Dr. Wai-kam Ho, to whom we are indebted for much of the above information, including the relatively precise dating, the three sculptures are far more likely to have been part of a larger mandala group, very likely with Kuan-yin at the centre. Such a temple installation, involving a living mandala of life-size sculptures, could only have been possible at an important site, but is not unheard-of; one extant Sung temple has a mandala grouping of larger than life-size sculptures.

From an old French collection, formed in the early twentieth century.

all text & images Sydney L. Moss Ltd

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