About this artwork
These two stone slabs originally formed the first story of a miniature Buddhist pagoda, which was elevated on a tiered base. Many such pagodas, usually standing seven or nine stories tall, are preserved from the eighth century in northern China.
Now separated for display, these slabs were once tightly aligned to form one chamber whose interior was visible only though a canopied doorway cut into the front slab. Dynamic guardians, flying apsaras (heavenly beings), writhing dragons, and an ogre mask protect this doorway, which opens into a sacred space. The Buddha, seated in the center, is flanked by two bodhisattvas (compassionate saintly beings) holding lotus flowers. The bodhisattvas’ fluid postures, which echo those of sensual images from contemporary Indian art, distinguish many Buddhist sculptures of early-eighth-century China.
A long inscription, carved into the left side of both slabs, states that the family of Jia Heida commissioned this pagoda in honorable devotion to his deceased parents. Replete with Buddhist metaphors and allusions to the Buddha s life, this text opens with a bleak perspective on the physical world and then praises both Buddhist teachings of spiritual redemption and secular values of Chinese filial devotion. The inscription closes with a prayer extolling Buddhist principles.
The back of the rear slab is incised with images of two brothers, the bodhisattvas of medicine, who vow to heal the sick. The elder brother (left) holds a bowl containing a lotus flower, which symbolizes medicine; the younger brother (right) joins his hands in prayer. A small figure in the lower-left corner, who reaches out with one arm, as if pleading for medicine, may represent a faithful devotee. Inscriptions along the far-left and far-right edges identify the patron of these images as Konghui, a Buddhist nun. Inscriptions to the left of both brothers offer praise to the bodhisattvas.
Currently Off View
- Asian Art
- Section of a Buddhist Pagoda
- 724 CE
- 66.0 × 43.2 × 41.9 cm (26 × 17 × 16 1/2 in.)
- Lucy Maud Buckingham Collection