A Jade Carving that Tells the Legend of Bodhidharma

A fascinating story helps us better understand the history and implicit meaning of a piece of art. So, today, we are going to help you appreciate the beauty of an exquisite piece of jade carving by telling you a story. This pale greenish-white jade carving shows a monk in a grotto. Yet, he is not an ordinary monk. The figure is, in fact, Bodhidharma, the transmitter of Chan (Zen) Buddhism to China.

A Pale Greenish-white Jade Carving of Damo in a Grotto, 18th-19th century|US$100,000 - 150,000

Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is also known as Damo in China and Daruma in Japan. There are two representations of Bodhidharma that we usually see. The first one is the depiction of Bodhidharma standing barefoot on a reed leaf, referring to a famous episode of his life. He was standing on a tiny reed leaf when he crossed the Yangtze River on his way northward to modern-day Henan Province. That’s how he got the name ‘Bodhidharma (Daruma) on a Reed’. This incident is also a popular theme in Buddhist art depicting Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma (Daruma) on a Reed. Japan. Muromachi period (15th century). Collection of Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Bodhidharma (Daruma) Crossing the Water on a Reed. Kitagawa Utamaro I (early 1750s–1806). Edo period. Collection of Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Bodhidharma is sometimes presented in the form of a seated figure in contemplation, like the present jade carving. It based on the legend of Bodhidharma meditating for nine years while facing a wall inside a cave near Shaolin Temple in China. A popular account relates that Bodhidharma was admitted into the Shaolin temple after he spent nine years in the cave. Some even believe that he started the physical training of the monks, which led to the creation of the well-known Shaolin Kungfu.

Bodhidharma (Daruma). Soami. Edo period (18th-19th century). Collection of Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The 'Bodhidharma Hole' in Shaolin Temple

Dehua Figure of Bodhidharma in Meditation. Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Back to the greenish-white jade carving, next to the meditative figure of Bodhidharma is an inscription carved on the cliff face featuring an imperial poem by Emperor Qianlong. The poem titled ‘Damo mian bi tu’ (meditation of Damo) perfectly describes the scene.

The jade will be up for sale at Christie’s New York on 13 September, estimated at US$100,000 - 150,000.


A Rare and Finely Carved Pale Greenish-White Jade Carving of Damo in a Grotto. 18th-19th Century

Lot no.: 962
Height: 20.3cm
Acquired before 1950 and thence by descent within the family.
Estimate: US$100,000 - 150,000

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Fine Chinese Jade Carvings from Private Collections
2018/9/7-8|10am - 5pm
2018/9/9|1pm - 5pm
2018/9/10-11|10am - 5pm
2018/9/12|10am - 2pm
Auction: 2018/9/13|2pm