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Head of a Buddha

This beautifully sculpted head of a Buddha fully captures a physical essence of serenity coupled with a true effortlessness of being. The subtle fleshiness of the check and chin and the curvature of the eyebrows are typical for Northern Qi art. There is an interesting dynamic contrast in the facial features, with the straight lines of the nose ridge and the philtrum perpendicular to the heavy eyelids and pursed lips. The mouth itself is slightly upturned in the faintest of smiles. The work expresses an inherent and beautifully articulated gentleness that is charged with the inner fire of spirituality. This strikingly sensitive head of a Buddha presents the noble, yet mild, character of this revered individual.

The Northern Qi period was one of the most innovative and distinctive periods for the art of stone carving in China, when the sculptors embarked on a departure away from the more elementary, foreign-influenced style practised during the Northern Wei period towards a distinctive Chinese Buddhist imagery. It is extremely rare to find a marble head of the Buddha of this fine quality, preserved with so much of its original gilding. Sensitively defined with distinctive aristocratic features and an expression of deep serenity, this head is closely related to the sculptures recovered from a hoard at the Longxing Temple in Qingzhou, Shandong province, discovered in 1996 during the refurbishment of a school sports field.

This rare example of a late sixth century head of a Buddha embodies the sculptural tensions of the period. It testifies to the impact of the religion on sixth century China. A master craftsman carved it at one of the most creative and exciting periods in the history of Chinese sculpture, when the restrictions of Western models, which had hitherto inspired sculptors, were finally being shed in favor of a truly Sinicized sculptural style. Northern Qi art cast familiar subjects in a new style. For Buddhist sculpture this meant images that explored the human and divine nature of the Buddha and the idealized and natural expression of his image.

Related examples include the heads illustrated in Qingzhou Longxingsi fojiao zaoxiang yishu/Buddhist imagery art at Longxing Temple of Qingzhou, Ji'nan, 1999, pls 118-121; and others included in the exhibition Masterpieces of Buddhist Statuary from Qingzhou City, National Museum of Chinese History, Beijing, 1999, p. 121. A very fine head held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is also closely related (accession number 2001.422).

Marcel Gimond (1894-1961) was a French sculptor born in the Ardèche region of France. Gimond studied under Aristide Maillol and Auguste Rodin at the Beaux-Arts Academy in Lyon and later became a professor at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris until 1960. Particularly renowned as a sculptor of the bust, his works were exhibited regularly at the Salon and continue to be seen in numerous institutions worldwide, including the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Object information

Stone with traces of gilding
Date and place:
China, Northern Qi Dynasty, 550 - 577 A.D.
Height 24 cm
Private collection, Hong Kong; Sotheby's Hong Kong, 3 April 2017, lot 3035; Private collection of the French sculptor Marcel Gimond (1894 - 1961).

Marcel Gimond, Refutations de Certaines Erreurs Concernant la Sculpture, Paris, 1961, p. 41.

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