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Limestone Maitreya

Price on Request

Longmen cave temples, Henan province 

Grey limestone figure of Maitreya, seated upon a base in the 'pensive' posture, pralambapadasana, with legs crossed at the ankles and body and head slightly inclined to the left, left cheek cupped in his left hand while the right hand rests on his right knee, holding part of the robe. The head is well carved with arched brows over half-closed eyes, elongated ears, well-formed nose and lips set in a gentle smile, topped by a tall, flaring crown set on neatly arranged hair. The elegantly attenuated torso is bare apart from a pectoral around the neck and a shawl draped over the shoulders, secured by a bi disc at the waist, the ends trailing over the forearms. The dhoti, secured in a band around the waist, cascades over the legs and the pedestal in rhythmic folds and pleats, stopping at the ankles to reveal the narrow feet and long toes protectively curled around a lotus bud at the base. The grey stone has a smooth patina and the back is unworked.

Height: 61.0cm

Provenance: 
Longmen cave temples, Henan province. 

Arthur B. Michael, Newton Center, Massachusetts. 

Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, (bequest of Arthur B. Michael in 1942). 

Eskenazi Limited, London. 

Norman A. Kurland, U. S. A. 

Exhibited: 
Travelling exhibition, 1976 - 1977, to the following institutions: 

Ithaca, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University. 

Albany, Albany Institute of History and Art. 

Utica, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. 

Syracuse, Everson Museum of Art. 

Rochester, Memorial Art Gallery. 

Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery. 

London, 2018, Eskenazi Limited.

Published: 
Andrew C. Ritchie, Catalogue of the Paintings and Sculpture in the Permanent Collection, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, 1949, page 212, number 209 (unillustrated). 

Steven A. Nash, with Katy Kline et al., Albright-Knox Art Gallery: Painting and Sculpture from Antiquity to 1942, Buffalo, New York, 1979, pages 84 - 85. 

Martie W. Young, Far Eastern Art in Upstate New York, Ithaca, New York, 1976, catalogue number 21. 

Sotheby's, Highlights of Historic Objects offered by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York, 2007, pages 58 - 63. 

Sotheby's, New York, Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art including property of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, volume 11, 20 March 2007, number 503.

Eskenazi, Six Dynasties art from the Norman A Kurland collection, Part two, London, 2018, number 17.

Similar examples: 
Wen Yucheng ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, diaosu bian 11, Long men shiku diaoke, (The Great Treasury of Chinese Art, Sculpture volume 11, Longmen Caves), Shanghai, 1988, pages 51 - 53, numbers 52, 53 and 54 for two figures; also, Sabrina Rastelli ed., China at the Court of the Emperors, Unknown Masterpieces from Han Tradition to Tang Elegance (25 - 907), Florence, 2008, page 124, number 16 for one of the figures; also, Jean-Paul Desroches et al., Fils du ciel, Brussels, 2009, pages 94 - 95, number 101.

Dagny Carter, Four Thousand Years of China's Art, New York, 1948, page 144 for the example now in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. 

Rene-Yvon Lefebvre d'Argence, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1974, number 37 for the example in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; also, Hai-wai Yi-chen, (Chinese Art in Overseas Collections Buddhist Sculpture). Taibei, 1986, page 30, number 26; also, Sun Di ed., Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Statues in Overseas Collections, volume 1, Beijing, 2005, page 198. 

Jack V. Sewell, Chinese Art from the Collection of James W and Marilynn Alsdorf, The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, 1970, S10, illustrated back cover; also, Eskenazi Limited, Ancient Chinese sculpture from the Alsdorf collection and others, London, 1990, number 1; also, Giuseppe Eskenazi in collaboration with Hajni Elias, A Dealer's Hand, The Chinese Art Market Through the Eyes of Giuseppe Eskenazi, London, 2012, page 216, number 101. 

Examples with head inclined to the proper right: 

Jan Van Alphen ed., The Buddha in the Dragon Gate, Ghent, 2001, page 103, number 4. 

Hai-wai Yi-chen, Chinese Art in Overseas Collections Buddhist Sculpture, Taibei, 1986, page 31, number 27 for a smaller example in the Seattle Art Museum; also, Sun Di ed., Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Statues in Overseas Collections, volume 1, Beijing, 2005, page 203.


The iconography of the 'pensive' figure, seated with one hand raised to rest on corresponding cheek, often with one leg resting on the knee of the pendant leg, became very popular during the fifth and sixth centuries in China. The posture, often described as siwei, came to mean deep contemplation or serious thought and during the Northern and Southern Dynasties sculptures were at times designated by inscription as siwei figures.

Such figures have been much discussed by modern scholars, but a consensus has yet to be reached as to the identity of the figure, sometimes identified as the young Prince Siddhartha before his enlightenment or Maitreya, the bodhisattva of the future, preaching in the Tusita heaven; however, it has been suggested by Denise Patry Leidy for instance that the pensive bodhisattvas were generic visual symbols of the paradises of Maitreya and by Eileen Hsu that some of the siwei figures represented 'actual devotees of the Maitreya cult' as an aid to meditative practice.1

The present figure is seated in a variant of the pensive pose, with legs crossed at the ankles, the proper right ankle over the left, a lotus bud enclosed between the elegantly carved feet. A number of bodhisattvas in the Longmen cave temples are found with legs arranged in this position, with ankles crossed, but they are shown seated upright with hands in different mudra, usually abhaya and varada.2 Such figures are often accompanied by a pair of lions, one seated by either knee. There are very few examples from Longmen combining the 'pensive' pose with crossed ankles and almost all appear to be in museum collections.

1 Eileen Hsiang-Ling Hsu, 'Visualization Meditation and the Siwei Icon in Chinese Buddhist Sculpture' in Artibus Asiae, volume LXII, Ascona, 2002, page 8.

2 Wen Yucheng ed., Zhongguo meishu quanji, diaosu bian 11, Longmen shiku diaoke, (The Great Treasury of Chinese Art, Sculpture volume 11, Longmen Caves). Shanghai, 1988, page 7, number 7 for a number of such figures on the north wall of the Guyang Cave.