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Limestone Votive Stele

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Limestone Buddhist votive stele. The front is carved with a central figure of Maitreya seated with legs crossed, his hands in abhaya and varadamudrã -, backed by a circular halo, with an outer border of radiating lotus petals, incised in low relief. Maitreya is flanked by two bodhisattvas, their heads backed by carved-out leaf-shaped mandorlas, each with a Buddhist lion below, all against a leaf-shaped mandorla incised with flames. Maitreya is crowned with a three-sided diadem, over his pulled-up hair, to which are attached stiff ribbons that fall behind him. He wears a necklace on his bare chest; clinging, pleated robes that model the form of his legs and stop, in the front, at his bare feet; and long scarves or sashes that fall from his shoulders, are threaded through and cross at a disc at his waist, and loop gracefully over his legs and raised arms. The bodhisattvas, standing on pedestals, wear similar crowns and robes, the one to Maitreya’s proper right with hands pressed together in front of his chest, the other to his left holding a whisk in his upraised right hand. 

The reverse of the stele is incised, on the lower section, with an eighty-two character inscription which may be translated as:

In the second year of the Xiping reign of the Northern Wei (corresponding to 517 AD), monk Sheng respectfully commissioned a statue of Maitreya. May it bring salvation to the ancestors and hope of happiness in heaven for the good deeds they have done in life. May they be protected by the three deities. Good wishes to all living beings, including Master, disciples, parents and devotees. May they avoid the bad and receive the good.
 

Height: 25.2cm 

Provenance:
Private collection, Sweden.

Private collection, London.

Eskenazi Limited, London.

Jane and Leopold Swergold, U.S.A.

Exhibited:
New York, 17 - 29 March 2008, Eskenazi Limited at PaceWildenstein.

Published:
Christie’s, Fine Chinese Ceramics, Painting and Works of Art, London, 16 December 1996, number 109.

Eskenazi Limited, Chinese sculpture and works of art, London, 2008, number 3.

Similar examples:
Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, Chinese Buddhist Stone Sculpture, Veneration of the Sublime, Osaka, 1995, page 86, number 95, for a stele of similar proportions carved with a standing figure of Maitreya, dated to 515; and page 87, number 96, for a larger stele of different form, carved with a very similar cross-legged figure of Maitreya, dated to 520.

S. Matsubara, A History of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, plates volume 1, Tokyo, 1995, plate 204b, for a small marble votive shrine with a very similar figure of Maitreya.