NEW YORK – Buddhist sculpture from China dating from the Sixth to Ninth centuries is the focus of the Spring 2018 Asian show at Throckmorton Fine Art (www.throckmorton-nyc.com) in New York.
Spencer Throckmorton says the collection of Buddhist images to be offered March 1 to April 28, 2018 “Represents Sui to Tang, A Golden Age of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture.”
In an essay by the scholar Chang Qing accompanying the show, Qing says that the development of Chinese Buddhist sculpture corresponds with the transmission to China of Buddhism from Central Asia and India, following the Silk Road. “Through the exchange of monks going from India and Central Asia to China, not only sculptures were brought to China but art in the form of small portable figures and other objects. The Western artistic style was transformed by the Chinese artists in a local and distinctly Chinese expression.”
Chinese Buddhist and artists developed distinct period styles during the succeeding dynasties over the nearly two thousand years following Buddhism’s first introduction to China in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-206 CE).
Buddhism originated in India in the 6th Century B.C., when a prince of the Shakyamuni clan, through spiritual searching, found enlightenment while meditating under the famous Bodhi tree. Scholars say Buddhism entered China in the 2nd Century A.D. during the Eastern Han Dynasty. One story about the Emperor Ming, 58 – 75 A.D., has him in a dream where he saw a god ‘whose body shown like the sun who flew by his palace.’ He asked his officials what god this could be, and one of the scholars told the emperor that he had heard of a holy man in India who had attained the Tao, and who was called Buddha, who flies through the air and shines like the sun. So the emperor sent emissaries to India to learn about the Buddha, which started the exchange between the two cultural regions and Buddhism’s spread to China. Buddhism developed from an austere form focused on the individuals’ efforts through meditation to achieve personal salvation and enlightenment, to a more inclusive popular religion featuring a rich panoply of Bodhisattvas who functioned much as saints in the Catholic religion, who could intercede and assist the individual in their lives and towards enlightenment.
Spencer Throckmorton says, “Images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas became central to the religious worship, as they were believed to have been created by merit and could convey merit simply by the worshiper contemplating them. The patrons and imperial families and individuals who commissioned the sculptures, and funded the shrines, temples and monasteries where they were placed, gained merit through such generosity. We are fortunate to be able to enjoy this abundance of imagery today through the survival of the sculptures on display here.”
Examples in this exhibition include mostly Sixth to Ninth century figures when artists strove to make Buddhist art more relatable in order to attract more people to the religion. Based on Buddhist sutras, monks and artist created new indigenous forms and styles of images based on those originating in India and Central Asia. This phenomenon is called the Sinicization of Buddhist art with the period of Sui (581-618) and Tang Dynasties (618-907 CE) marking the peak of Buddhist art in China.
It was during the Sui Dynasty that more feminine and charming figures emerged, having evolved from the spare masculine style of previous periods. Chang’an was the center of development of the new fashion of images based on the increased influence from the Indian Gupta style.
During the Tang Dynasty, Chinese Buddhist art reached its historical summit, influencing neighboring countries such as Korea and Japan who refer to Tang-style Buddhist art as “International Tang Style.” The two capitals, Chang’an and Luoyang, were centers in the development of Tang-style images. Luoyang artists excavated caves and carved images at Longmen grottoes. Buddhist figures had a healthy and slender build with good proportions. Beginning in the Eighth century, the style of Buddhist figures became plump with fat faces and bodies.
The earliest examples featured at Throckmorton Fine Art include a Guanyin Bodhisattva from the Sui Period (581-618 CE) in marble more than 37 inches tall; a marble Head of a Bodhisattva from the Northern Qi/Tang period (550-907 CE) and a Northern Qi/Tang Period Marble Head of a Buddha dating to 550-907 CE.
Also featured in the Throckmorton show are many examples from the Tang Period (618-907 CE) including several Buddha Heads in marble and limestone and a Marble Head of a Lohan (a strongman guardian of the temple).
Tang Period sculptures on view include a Standing Guanyin Bodhisattva in sandstone with polychrome 31 inches tall; a marble Stele of Buddha 21.25 inches tall; a selection of Standing Bodhisattvas and Standing Buddhas; and a Head of Lokapala (guardians of the world). Spotlighted examples include a Lohan holding Lotus on pedestal; a Seated Bodhisattva in Pose of Royal Ease; and another on a Lotus Throne.
From the Song Period (960-1279 CE) Throckmorton is offering a head of Bodhisattva Maitreya nearly 20 inches tall.
Qing’s essay describes how the patronage of the two rulers in the second half of the seventh century helped the style to flourish. Emperor Gaozong (r. 650-683 CE) and his wife, Empress Wu Zeitian (r. 684-704 CE) encouraged Tang Buddhism and were, in fact, devout Buddhists with the Empress, in 691, placing the status of Buddhism higher than Daoism, the traditional Chinese religion. With the encouragement of the two rulers, the construction of monasteries, the building of pagodas, and the excavation of caves, as well as the commissioning of images, became common in the Tang Empire, ushering in a golden age in Chinese Buddhist history.
It was Empress Wu Zeitian who challenged male dominance in political matters and eventually, in 690 CE, became the only female Emperor in Chinese history.
Spencer Throckmorton adds that “The nearly three centuries we have chosen to highlight in our 2018 Asian exhibition was a particularly rich period of artistic production of Buddhist sculpture as Buddhism was adopted at the highest levels of Chinese society, and was supported by the Imperial courts of the successive dynasties. The quality and beauty of these examples can serve to illustrate the high artistic level of the sculpture of this era, and its development over this period.
“This will be the seventh exhibition of Chinese Buddhist sculpture we have staged since 2007, each time working in concert with leading scholars and experts on the subject. We are fortunate to have had Dr. Chang Qing to write the catalog text.
“It is an honor to be able to acquire such important artworks from this significant period in China. We hope to see many collectors and museum officials visit the exhibition.”
Demonstrating the gallery’s commitment to connoisseurship, Throckmorton has achieved sales to such major museums as The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Getty and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as well as The Reina Sofia in Madrid. Portions of collections the gallery was instrumental in forming have been donated to The Louvre. The gallery loans examples on a regular basis to such significant institutions as The London National Gallery.
In addition to showcasing Chinese jades and Asian art, Throckmorton specializes in pre-Columbian art and vintage and contemporary Latin American photography. The gallery participates in internationally acclaimed fairs, including more than 30 years exhibiting at the prestigious Winter Antiques Show in New York; the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) Photography Show each April, and it stages important annual exhibitions in the spring during Asia Week. It has also published more than a dozen catalogs on these subjects.