Wooden Sculpture of the Vairocana Buddha

SKU X.0708
Circa

15th Century AD to 17th Century AD

Dimensions

39″ (99.1cm) high x 28.75″ (73.0cm) wide

Medium

Wood

Origin

China

Gallery Location

UK


 

This imposing Dynamic Buddha dates from the second half of the Ming dynasty to the rise of the Qing dynasty.This period spans the 15th to 17th centuries AD, and saw many of the most important developments in Chinese culture. The Ming, founded in 1368 under the peasant emperor Hong Wu, was a militarily oriented socio-political entity much given to radical interpretations of Confucianism and with a very strong defensive ethos (the Great Wall dates to this period). However by the 17th century cracks had started to appear, young male heirs being manipulated as puppets by the ruling families, and the court became rotten with intrigue. To compound matters, the Manchurian Chinese cities were being attacked by local groups dubbed the Manchus who eventually invaded China and deposed the old regime. The last Ming emperor, Chongzhen, hanged himself on Coal Hill overlooking the Forbidden City, bringing an end to his line and ushering in the Qing dynasty. The Qing was founded by Nurhaci in the early 17th century, and persisted until the collapse of imperial China in 1912 with the hapless Pu-Yi, the last emperor of China. Their isolationist policies, social control (all men required to shave their heads, wear queues, and wear Manchu rather than traditional Chinese dress) introspection and cultural conservatism was at odds with their liberality in certain social issues such as forbidding the binding of womens feet (later withdrawn due to social pressure from the populace). However, this cultural inflexibility which grew as the emperors grew increasingly unaware of the world outside their palace walls, much less the countrys borders was a difficult stance to maintain in the shadow of the European thalassocracies, and it may have been this which helped hasten the demise of the Imperial system. The Ming and the Qing dynasties were highly creative times, seeing the appearance of the first novels written in the vernacular, considerable development in the visual arts and outstanding craftsmanship in all fields. The present sculpture is a case in fact, and it is perhaps somewhat disarming to reflect that this peaceful figure dates from a period of such spectacular turmoil. This superb sculpture admirably portrays the Vairocana Buddhas poise and serenity. He rests in padnasanam (lotus) position, his hands folded together in a palms-up position known as dhyana mudra. The face is exquisitely carved, the features carefully measured and harmoniously expressed. The face is framed by pendulous earlobes and hair pulled into a helmet-like arrangement of tiny, serrated knobs. The drapery is extremely competent in its execution, describing a roll of curved pleats running from the shoulders to the lap, the tunic-like garment encasing the arms down to the wrist and concealing the legs. The patina is perfect, and the piece is in extremely good condition. The Buddha in sharp contradistinction from the more ornate Bodhisattva figures is plain and unadorned, reflecting the simplicity and purity of the Vairocana Buddhas character. Indeed, the lack of ornamental detailing increases the sensual impact and clean lines of this remarkable carving. This is a truly wonderful piece of ancient sculpture.

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