China, Six Dynasties Period, Norther Qi Dynasty / Stele with Shakyamuni and Maitreya / 550-577China, Six Dynasties Period, Norther Qi Dynasty
Stele with Shakyamuni and Maitreya

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Creator Nationality: Asian; Far East Asian; Chinese
Creator Dates/Places: China
Creator Active Place: China
Creator Name-CRT: China, Six Dynasties Period, Norther Qi Dynasty
Title: Stele with Shakyamuni and Maitreya
Title Type: Primary
View: Full View
Creation Start Date: 550
Creation End Date: 577
Creation Date: 550-577
Object Type: Sculpture
Materials and Techniques: marble with polychromy
Dimensions: Overall: 119cm
AMICA Contributor: The Cleveland Museum of Art
Owner Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
ID Number: 1993.108
Credit Line: Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund
Context: For much of the sixth century, China was ruled by a series of weak dynastic houses dominated by warfare, assassination, massacre, and economic disorder. For the Buddhist community, this period of worldly chaos coincided with the beginning of mofa, 10,000 years of decadence when Buddha's teachings were in decline. By one earthly count, mofa would arrive in 552, 1,000 years after the death of Shakyamuni, the Historical Buddha. In this context, escapist religious doctrines promising rebirth in celestial Buddhist paradises proved more popular than earlier cults based on the long-awaited arrival of the Future Buddha, Maitreya. Such changes were part of a profound religious shift that eventually redefined Buddhism as a religion of faith, not works, and offered the potential of divine assistance. These promises are illustrated in this radiant marble sculpture, called a stele, originally intended for a Buddhist temple or cave shrine where it would have received the prayers and offerings of the faithful. The stele features a massive image of Shakyamuni with his hands positioned to signify teaching and the relief from fear. The subject of his lesson may well be one of the scriptures concerning paths to salvation promoted by the Dilun sect of Chinese Buddhism. TheBuddha is flanked by two pairs of smaller figures, who can be identified as his chief disciples and divine associates, and ringed by other heavenly beings called apsarases, all gathered to hear the teacher's words. The back of the sculpture presents a different, less formal vision, with a large meditative figure seated beneath a pair of tall intertwined trees presiding over one of the paradises open to Buddhist believers. Retaining much of its original painted surface, this remarkable sculpture must havebeen purposely buried for protection, possibly during the persecution of Chinese Buddhism in AD 854. Stylistically, the sculpture illustrates the effects of new influences reaching China from Buddhist lands to the west that led to more columnar figures with large, strong physical features revealed through tightly fitting garments. This same style is illustrated by Buddhist sculptures in the cave chapels at Xiangtangshan, a site sponsored by the rulers of the brief but artistically vibrant Northern Qi dynasty. The region of Xiangtangshan, a well-known source for white marble, was also a major center of the Dilun and other paradise sects. Thus, although it is uninscribed, the museum's stele was most likely created in the vicinity of the Northern Qi capitalatAnyang, in northern Henan, not far from Xiangtangshan. K.W.
AMICA ID: CMA_.1993.108
AMICA Library Year: 1998
Media Metadata Rights: Copyright, The Cleveland Museum of Art

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