Tang Sandstone Head of Buddha to Lead Sotheby’s Paris Arts d’Asie

In Sotheby’s upcoming Arts d’Asie auction, a strong group of Chinese and Himalayan Buddhist figures from various private collections will be offered. Leading the sale is a sandstone head of Buddha from the Tang dynasty and it is expected to fetch €150,000-250,000 (US$167,096-278,493).

A sandstone head of Buddha, Tang dynasty, late 7th/early 8th century

The peak of the Tang dynasty (618-907) is considered the golden era of Chinese history. Buddhist sculptures made in the early Tang dynasty show the influence of its preceding dynasty Sui (581-618). Meanwhile, the aesthetics of Indian Buddhist sculpture was also introduced into China as the Buddhist monk Xuanzang (also known as Tang Sanzang) returned to China after his seventeen-year overland journey to India. He brought back over six hundred Mahayana and Hinayana texts, seven statues of the Buddha and more than a hundred sarira relics. Xuanzang was a revered monk with great influence in politics and religion, and hence the statues that he brought immediately became something that Chinese craftsmen admired and even imitated.

Dated late 7th to early 8th century, the present head of Buddha is representative of Chinese Buddhist stone sculpture from the period that saw the greatest flowering of China’s sculptural arts, the High Tang period under Emperor Xuanzong (r. 713-755).

In the early Tang, we begin to see a more naturalistic approach to the depiction of Buddhist deities. Buddhist sculpture of this period is characterised by the very sensuous physical appearance of the deities represented. The present head with his plump face, the elegantly curved almond-shaped eyes beneath sharply defined and arched brows, its well-formed nose and full lips recessed into fleshy cheeks is a prime example of the fully matured style of High Tang Buddhist sculpture.

The head closely follows the style set by the monumental figure of Buddha Vairocana on the north wall of cave 19 in the Fengxian Temple at Longmen, Henan. The head is fully worked in the round and leaning slightly forward suggesting that the head may have been part of a large freestanding figure or a figure with the head detached from the wall.

Figure of Buddha Vairocana in the Fengxian Temple at Longmen, Henan

With regard to the provenance, the stone head was acquired in 1967 from the gallery of Samy Chalom, who had purchased the head from the family of a certain M. Raufast, a French collector of Chinese paintings, works of art and sculpture active in the early decades of the 20th century.

A gilt-bronze figure of a Bodhisattva

Yongle mark and period

The second top lot of the sale is a gilt-bronze figure of Bodhisattva with Yongle mark and period, estimated at €100,000-200,000 (US$111,397-222,794). Buddhist figures from the Yongle period are popular among collectors as they are gaining recognition as being among the most important works of art from the Buddhist world.

The stylistic origin of Yongle gilt bronzes can be traced to the Yuan dynasty when the court espoused Tibetan Buddhism. While the identity of the figure is not entirely clear, the positioning of the hands indicates that it may represent Manjushri. The figure's right hand may have held a sword while the other hand in the lowered position may have held a book.

A gilt-bronze figure of Manjushri, Yongle mark and period, was offered at Sotheby’s New York last March

The figure of a Bodhisattva was originally acquired in 1956 from the sale of the collection of André Schoeller, a celebrated art expert in Paris. In March 2018, a similar gilt-bronze figure of Manjushri, Yongle mark and period, was offered at Sotheby’s New York and sold for US$1.33m.

A gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus, Mongolia, 18th century


The third top lot goes to a gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus, Mongolia, 18th century. The 26cm-high figure is estimated at €100,000-150,000 (US$111,397 - 167,096). Amitayus is the Buddha of Infinite Life, a deity that provides devotees with health and longevity. The figure is seated in dhyanasana on a double-lotus base with beaded rims, holding the kalasa vessel.

The figure exemplifies the artistic traditions of Zanabazar school. Zanabazar Tibetan Buddhism, a religion of strong ritual character and with a crowded pantheon of gods and deities, was a source of inspiration for religious art in Mongolia. Mongolian art was strongly influenced by the styles of the neighboring regions of Tibet, India, Nepal and China.

Bogdo Gegen Zanabazar (1635-1723) was the son of the Tusheet Khan, one of the leaders of Mongolia in the 17th century, a direct descendant of Chinggis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire.

In Zanabazar’s work, and especially in the sculptures, mostly made by the followers of his school, what stands out thanks to their singular beauty are the proportions and the facial expressions of the deities, portrayed in deep meditation, skilfully depicted according to the characteristics of the ideal body.

Top three lots

An Important Sandstone Head of Buddha, Tang Dynasty, Late 7th/early 8th Century

Lot no.: 51
Height: 42.8cm

  • Collection M. Raufast, Paris (according to the invoice by Samy Chalom).
  • Acquired from Galerie Samy Chalom, Paris, 28th April 1967 by the current owner.
  • With certificate by Jean-Claude Moreau-Gobard, Paris, 27th April 1967.

Estimate: €150,000 - 250,000

A Rare Well-cast Gilt-bronze Figure of a Bodhisattva, Yongle Mark and Period

Lot no.: 22
Height: 21cm

  • Collection André Schoeller (1877-1956), Paris.
  • Ader, Paris, 14th, 15th and 16th May 1956, lot 124.
  • Thence in the family by descent.

Estimate: €100,000 - 200,000

A Rare Gilt-bronze Figure of Amitayus, Mongolia, 18th Century

Lot no.: 69
Height: 26cm
Estimate: €100,000 - 150,000

Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s Paris
Sale: Arts d'Asie
Sale date:
11 June 2019|10:30am
8 - 10 June 2019|10am - 6pm